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We’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. We’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters this. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges this brings.
We are working on a really big and really cool project for a client where they have expressly asked us to push the boundaries, incorporating out-there ideas and technologies. What better job to test our new-found innovation resolve.
We started with a team brainstorming session to generate ideas that could inform our approach.
Some team members were clearly idea generators, spitting out idea after idea with little consideration of the merits of each one. I fall into this group, finding it really easy to generate the volume of ideas but not always with an associated level of quality.
Others were idea builders, better at taking other people’s ideas and exploring and shaping them further.
Others were idea resolvers. They sat thinking to themselves, not participating in the discussion apart from every so often when they shared the fully formed idea they’d been working through in their heads.
And then there were the few who added little or nothing to the brainstorming meeting. They seemed to have no ideas. For these more analytical-minded types, brainstorming sessions are just too fast and unstructured. Ironically, a few of our best ideas came from one of these people. They went away, thought about it, and then came up with a couple of well-considered ideas that were clearly influenced by the discussions in the brainstorming session.
As the week following the brainstorming progressed, we once again saw a huge difference in attitudes and approaches.
Some of us got very excited by the endless possibilities and took the leading ideas, rethinking them, stretching them, adapting them, combining them in different ways and generally just looking to find new ways to apply them. We developed a prototype solution and got the team together to talk this through.
Some were happy to take the solution being proposed, adding value by suggesting refinements, ways to sell the ideas into the client or alternative approaches to help the idea become more achievable. I quickly learned that harnessing these groups can help take a solution from good to fantastic.
Another small group quickly switched off, feeling little ownership of the proposed solution. They didn’t fight or discourage it, they just disengaged, agreeing to do what needed to be done with little passion or buy-in. They still have a role to play in allowing an innovative outcome but it’s mostly about doing what needs to be done.
And a final group actively found issues with the solution, focusing on the complexity, cost, timeframes and/or highlighting past scenarios where similar solutions had failed. The challenge with this group is to get their focus off the problem and onto solutions. How can we do this cheaper, quicker and simpler? I found challenging them to find alternative ways to achieve the same outcome allowed this group to utilise their skills and feel more involved.
As we get ready to present the proposed solution to the client, I am excited with what we’ve come up with. It took a mixed bag of ideas to get us here and all-sorts of people to allow us to refine, evaluate and improve the solution. My preconception was that we needed big thinking ideas people but a better outcome was achieved by including a more diverse team of personalities and approaches. Creating a culture enabling innovation to thrive means finding a way for everyone to contribute in a way that makes the most of their particular skillsets.