18 November 2016
Eight ways to foster innovative thinking in your team
Make sure you’re getting the very best from your team and encouraging innovative thinking.
It doesn’t matter what industry you work in: the ability to be creative and innovative is something that every business should have if they’re to maintain their competitive edge. Often, innovation occurs within teams, not with individuals, as it is the combination of different expertise, personalities, ages, and cultures which brings together a variety of thoughts and ideas.
As a leader, your job is to embrace this process and to act in a timely way on the creative thoughts of your team. To make sure you’re getting the very best from your team, consider implementing these eight ways to encourage innovative thinking.
- Encourage interaction between departments
In large businesses in particular it can be easy for different departments to become segregated and shut off from each other, making it difficult for employees to fully appreciate how the business functions as a whole. Encouraging members of different departments to come together now and again can help your team to break out of their silos, be inspired by new ways of thinking and come up with ways in which departments could work together to make processes more efficient or effective.
- Always look for alternative methods, and encourage your team to do the same
Although tried and tested practices often seem like the safer option, sometimes we find ourselves doing things ‘the old way’ when there’s a better, more successful method out there. It’s always a good idea to look for alternative methods, and in doing so you’ll lead by example and encourage your team to do the same. You never know how much of a difference your team might make by exploring some alternative ideas.
- Try reverse mentoring to gain different perspectives
Reverse mentoring is the process of teaming up senior and junior employees in order that both parties gain new skills and knowledge. Although a senior employee may have many years of business expertise and industry knowledge to pass on, the junior staff member might have valuable insights to share on new technologies which could be useful to the business, or have a better understanding of what makes young consumers tick. It may simply be that the junior employee has different perspectives on certain aspects of business, and the fresh way of thinking could do with being shared at a senior level. There are multiple ways in which younger, less experienced members of staff can mentor senior ones, and by combining the knowledge of junior and senior you may find that innovative new ideas begin bubbling up between them.
- Tolerate and encourage learning by mistakes
With innovative thinking and new ideas inevitably comes a certain degree of risk-taking, but it’s important to embrace this rather than be afraid of it. When members of your team take risks and get things wrong, be sure to let them know that you tolerate the error and encourage them to learn from it. If you’re too quick to berate staff for ideas that go wrong, they’ll be unlikely to put forward future ideas for fear of failing again, which means plenty of fantastic ideas could go to waste. Focus on constructive criticism and ongoing learning, and your team will quickly figure out that with some carefully calculated risk, their new ideas can still come to life.
- Welcome all ideas, no matter how outlandish
Putting a creative idea out there in front of your colleagues and superiors can be daunting, so to boost the confidence of your team members you should be sure to welcome all ideas that come your way, no matter how out of the box they may be. If faced with an idea that simply isn’t right for the business, rather than dismissing it outright make a concerted effort to be enthusiastic and to talk through the ins and outs of the concept. In doing so, you can carefully and tactfully explain why the idea is not quite right, yet your team member will still feel appreciated for their creative thinking and will learn along the way. Plus, although an original idea may not be right, a discussion around it will often trigger new creative thoughts and lead to future bright ideas that your business could well utilise.
- Make brainstorming a regular occurrence
Brainstorming doesn’t have to be restricted to specific projects; sometimes it’s helpful to practice group brainstorming to discuss general ways in which your business could improve. Consider organising sessions outside of the office to break the day-to-day routine and mindset of your team and stimulate some creative thinking. Encourage members of different teams to get together for this process, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak so that the quieter voices are able to share their thoughts. Plan what you’ll discuss too, and let the team know ahead of time. You might ask them to come up with five things the company could do differently to improve, or tell them to think of one way in which they think their department could be more productive. Encourage ideas both big and small – a suggestion for a new coffee machine in the kitchen may not seem as ground-breaking as an idea for a new line of products, but both could impact the business positively in very different ways.
- Don’t be controlling – be influential
A controlling leader is not one which stimulates creativity, so be sure to influence rather than control, particularly when it comes to ideas. For example, don’t push forward with your ideas over your team’s, particularly if they don’t seem to willingly agree that yours is the best. Don’t keep throwing new ideas their way either – give them a few suggestions and encourage them to come up with their own. By being creative yet welcoming of creativity from others, your team will be influenced to do exactly the same.
- Action good ideas, no matter who came up with them
Sometimes ideas only get actioned when they’ve come from a senior member of staff, leaving junior team members to feel disheartened that their ideas aren’t taken seriously. Whenever you hear a good idea, be sure to action it in some way and let the member of staff know about it. They will feel empowered and inspired to keep up with their creative thinking, and confident enough to speak up about future ideas that they may have.
This article originally appeared on Hays Viewpoint – a careers advice blog