How to build an innovative team

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“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

And if that’s what the co-founder of one of the world’s most innovative companies has to say, maybe we should all start taking a page out of Steve Jobs’ book, right?

Not only does innovation separate the leaders from the followers, but in some cases, it’s the difference between those that evolve, adapt and thrive and those that get left in the dust—just look at Kodak or Blockbuster. By shifting your thinking, you can positively influence your team, department or organization through something you do every day: learning.

But first, let’s get one thing out of the way: Creativity and innovation are not the same thing. As you might be saying, “But my dev team is already highly creative” or “My IT team thinks of great ideas all the time.”

By definition, innovation is value generation in the form of processes, products or services that enhance our quality of life. Innovation makes doing everyday things easier, happier or less stressful. Creativity empowers innovation: It allows you to approach things in new and novel ways, but it doesn’t necessarily produce value-yielding outcomes. In other words, innovation is what you get when you apply that creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

That said, leaders are pretty great at designing barriers to innovation—and you might not even realize that you’re doing it! If you find yourself saying, “I wish we could be more innovative, but …” then read on for strategies on how to reverse that negative self-talk and open up the door for innovation through learning. 

Innovation roadblock: “We don’t have the time or budget.”

You don’t need innumerable hours or a huge budget to cultivate curiosity, which is a catalyst for innovation. Chances are you’re already doing a few things right now to support innovation without realizing it. When you’re reading industry pubs such as WSJ, HackerNews or TechCrunch, what are you seeing that you just can’t help but act on? Encourage your people to do the same and you’ve made some strides already.

Also, taking in bite-sized knowledge is one of the most efficient ways to help build a mindset of innovation in the workplace. Here are three ways your team can make time for learning

Innovation roadblock: “I don’t have enough/the right people.”

The rationale sounds valid enough: Maybe you have some open positions to fill and you can’t possibly think about being innovative until you’re back at 100 percent, right? In reality, though, employees will always be coming and going. You can’t let small staffing issues paralyze you. 

Hop this hurdle by using low-cost, high value tools such as Myers-Briggs and Clifton’s StrengthFinder 2.0 to help make the most of the talent you do have in-house right now. These assessments allow you to pinpoint each team member’s strengths and areas for improvement. In turn, this allows you to leverage their natural talents and skills. And your HR department may even have info like this already on file from past interviews or staff training sessions.

Another way to capitalize on your existing talent pool is to highlight individuals for their ideas and strengths with activities that have a competitive slant. For example, hack days or hackathons challenge employees to pool their energy into new projects, culminating in quick-fire presentations and awards. Leader boards that recognize employees that speak up with an “idea worth spreading” can provide meaningful incentive, too. At the end of the day, it’s about channeling that untapped value that’s already inside your current employees right this very second.

Learn more about how to identify and work around more roadblocks standing between your team and innovation.

Get our guide: 6 barriers blocking your success



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