Six Ways to Tend Your Innovation Team

birds in the garden

Getting it right – from the top down.

Some years ago, I was asked to run an innovation session for a small (200 strong) company. Sessions can be exciting and stimulating but without the right organisational support and follow through, they can simply be a ‘tick the box’ exercise.

The company had intended to send their twelve person sales team to the training. We discussed the benefits of input from individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests, and ended up with members from the marketing, admin, sales, production and research teams in the room. The deep bank of knowledge from which to draw ideas, inspiration, problems and solutions is invaluable. In order to tend your innovation team, firstly ensure you have a diverse ‘brains trust’ in the group.

Secondly, encourage the group to engage in personal conversation. Allow the group time to get to know each other. Personal interactions develop trust and empathy. Unless your team feels they can bring their whole selves to the meeting (and to work for that matter), you won’t get their best contributions. The most effective team members have empathy for their colleagues. The most effective teams have empathy for their customers and their customers’ problems.

Why do some find the concepts of fun and work juxtapositional? Smiling and laughing, side-effects of having fun, relieve stress, improve immunity, soothe tension, improve mood and increase personal satisfaction. Tending method number three? Encourage fun, even games, in the workplace. Ping-pong tables haven’t been put in staff rooms to encourage ping-pong champions!

No-one wants to feel their efforts are on the road to nowhere. Studies indicate that we operate at our peak when we contribute. Before heading into the innovation training, management were asked to provide the team with the opportunity to meet for one hour, every fortnight, post the session. The company was asked to provide the team with a precious resource. Time. And morning tea. We created an environment where the team would feel valued and appreciated. Eighteen months later they were still going strong.

Successful teams are ‘backed’. They get a ‘hearing’. Our innovation team was guaranteed the opportunity to regularly present their ideas to the company directors. The intent was to progress the group’s work through the company’s R&D, production, marketing and sales processes to a customer. And we are all intrinsically motivated to make positive contributions. Tending method number five is to back your innovation team’s efforts.

It is important to instigate a ‘whole of company’ approach when establishing an innovative culture. Tending method number six is not new. It happens in big companies and has been responsible for major breakthroughs. Companies from the CommBank through to Google do it. It’s as simple as developing an ‘Ideas Bank’. Every member of this company had the opportunity to contribute. The ideas were discussed and iterated by the innovation team. Some went on to full production.

It doesn’t take much to tend an innovation team. Simply create opportunity. And if we were to sneak a seventh tip in? Don’t call them the Innovation Team.

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