September 18, 2017

Building the right team culture for innovative solutions

In my last article, I talked about the benefit of having a multifaceted team as diversity brings innovation.

Now, I know that in the ideal world, we all want to have diverse teams in our organisations. But in reality, choosing the perfect team may not always be possible as in most cases there is a limited pool of talent and candidates to choose from.

Hence, in practice we should strive instead to build the right team culture so that we can move forward with innovation when we see the opportunity to do so.

There are many types of culture we need to foster for innovation to happen but above all I would recommend two for you to start with: celebrating failure and levelling the playing field.

Firstly, we need to accept the fact that failure is not necessarily a bad thing and in some cases we can even make failure fun. Of course, when I talk about celebrating failure I don’t mean failure caused by negligent or unprofessional behaviour. Rather, I mean failure that comes from trying something different with the intention of finding a better way of serving customer needs: experimenting, exploring, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.

It’s also important to understand the full implication of the term “celebrate failure”. In fact, it’s not the failure itself that you’re celebrating; it’s the learning that comes from that failure and which moves you closer to the right solution.

In any case, it’s important to remember to actually celebrate too. “Celebrate” in this case doesn’t just mean tolerate or ignore failure — it means you should publicly recognise people for trying something, failing, learning and trying again. Promote people who do fail and learn over those who play it safe. Some companies even hold parties to celebrate failures — or rather to celebrate moving a step closer to the solution.

Another vital step in building people’s confidence to take risks and try different approaches is to encourage them to use fast prototyping and testing with real customers. It’s incredible how many companies invest substantial time and money in bringing a finished product or service to market without ever showing it to a customer. The cost of failure at this late stage is huge and so is the potential embarrassment of a very public disaster.

If you want people to be more comfortable with experimentation, teach them the skills to fail fast, fail early, and fail cheaply — and so succeed faster. Whether it’s a product, a service or an experience, you can create a quick physical mock-up from everyday art supplies, a storyboard, or a role play to engage customers and get critical feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This costs virtually nothing and helps you “fail forward” toward the next iteration, and ultimately the great product or service that you bring to market.

Simply put, failing is fun in the right environment — when it’s a celebrated learning experience in a process of innovation leading to an even greater success. You should be worried if your team and your people are not failing because that could mean you’re not being innovative enough.

The second point to consider is to level the playing field. For innovation to happen, differences are critical. Organisations should consider multidisciplinary teams where the members possess a range of thinking styles, expertise and experiences; such groups can develop solutions or innovations more effectively than narrowly focused or specialist individuals can do alone.

To be able to develop team culture like this, it is vital to have a flat hierarchy. No one in the team, regardless of seniority and expertise, should be allowed to narrow things down to suit his or his point of view. Think about this: a mere suggestion or recommendation made by a senior player to a less experienced team member could stifle the latter and result in a closed mindset; hence, it could prevent their ideas from generating.

Every individual thinks, feels or experiences things differently and those are the differences organisations need to bring to the surface if they want to come up with innovations. The wider the range of perspectives you get, the more likely new solutions will be developed. Therefore, everyone needs to learn and must be encouraged to respect each other’s inputs.

All in all, if innovation is something your organisation is wishing for, these are the two critical steps to build the right team cultureand create a higher chance of innovation happening.