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How to Encourage Team Innovation

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My team seems be stuck doing what they've always done. I want to encourage them to be more creative and innovative. Any ideas?

A: You certainly want to encourage your team to be as creative and innovative as possible—first of all, it makes work more fun, but you also want to ensure that your group is productive and engaged to continuously bring new ideas forward.

Let me ask, how do your employees know you want them to be more innovative? Have you raised the concern but haven't seen any results, or is this just something you've been thinking about? People tend to get stuck doing what they've always done and usually need a boost to think differently.

One way to encourage creative thinking is to ask a lot of questions to challenge the assumptions your team may hold. If you want them to explore new ideas, you need to use more than words to get them started. Here are some steps you can take.

Consider getting your team together and doing a simple exercise. Ask, what do we do that adds value to our organization? This exercise works great as a flip chart session, where everyone can see the answers. Then ask, what do we currently do that we could stop doing and no one would notice? Finally, ask, if we stopped doing the things that don't get us noticed or add value, what could we do instead?

If you're serious about wanting your team to be more innovative, be sure your organizational culture encourages taking risks.

Take what you come up with during this exercise and have some fun with new ways of accomplishing your mission. Your employees will see that you really do want them to think differently. Consider asking for volunteers to be on an "innovation team" and let the ideas fly. Think about how you will reward your staff for coming up with new ideas.

Some organizations solicit ideas using the "suggestion box." This practice allows people to make suggestions anonymously, but that means that you won't be able to reward or recognize a good idea unless the person self-identifies.

If you're serious about wanting your team to be more innovative, be sure your organizational culture encourages taking risks. If people aren't comfortable stepping out and suggesting new ways of doing things, no matter what you offer, you won't get what you're looking for.

Bottom line: To encourage innovation and creativity, make it easy and comfortable for people to come forward with new ideas. Reward and recognize them for their ideas appropriately, and let them know how receptive you are to hearing what they think.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

Organizational Culture Performance Management