Managing Director

Will Kaye

How to Increase Innovative Output from Your Team in 4 Steps

Growth Fuels Future Business

It’s a hyper competitive world out there, and the only way to stay ahead is to change faster than everyone else. On every front there is room for innovation in products, business models, service delivery, and of course, organisation. Even a team of good individuals will falter in a bad work environment that can’t innovate. Making a good innovative work environment is now essential for drawing out good creative and unique results from your team.

This innovation environment, or climate, is essential for keeping individual team members thinking creatively and innovatively instead of falling back into stale routines and habits. To break down the climate-improving process, organisational researchers Anderson and West created a measure of team climate that they call the Team Climate Inventory which has since been verified by other researchers in various fields, such as health systems in the Netherlands.

Anderson and West’s model of organisational innovation and creativity tracks creative climate by dividing an organisation’s innovative climate into four broad categories: vision, participative safety, task orientation, and organisational support for innovation. You will also notice the subcategories that contribute to and influence each category. By understanding and applying this four factor division of team creativity, you can easily break down where your team is doing well and where it may need improvement.

Anderson and West’s Model of Organisational Innovation:

Applying Anderson and West’s model can we then assume that leaders can simply create the right work climate for innovation and this in turn will make a mediocre team good and a good team great when given enough time? Researchers Andrew Pirola‐Merlo and Leon Mann suggest the relationship isn’t as simple as this. In a 2004 study  they found that the best long-term creative and innovative results in organisations was influenced by an innovative climate and also the talent and capabilities of the individuals in that climate. Therefore, team climate doesn’t influence team creativity directly or in isolation. Instead, an innovative climate influences innovative output indirectly via the capabilities of the individuals in that climate.

Therefore, leaders need to focus on hiring great people, as well as creating a great climate for innovation. Create that perfect creative climate for a talented team and increase their innovative results by following these four steps, each designed to match the four factors above in Anderson and West’s model of innovation.

1. Set Clear and Realistic Objectives and Expectations

Like any good strategic initiative, the first step in creating the right creative climate is deciding on a workable vision. People often act like there’s a mystical, ethereal magic to vision. But there’s no secret sauce, or special trick to articulating a vision. A vision simply means summarising a well-structured plan for the future with reasonable and clearly laid out objectives and expectations for your team.

With clear and well-defined objectives and direction, there’s also no magic to getting your team on board. Good vision from leadership gives team members the why to the what of their work. Don’t be like the managers that demand and order, without explanation, and are then surprised when their employees have little interest in getting anything done. To make your team members into a team they need a collective goal that they can contribute their own part to, making them feel belong as part of a whole.

2. Use Dynamic, Participative, Decision Making

Once you’ve laid out the innovative vision for your team, you might encounter pushback and alternative suggestions. Don’t just brush every suggestion aside. Embrace the creative and innovative knowledge of your team to modify your plan as necessary, while still keeping it in line with your wider business strategy.

Periodically encourage discussion and debate, reframing creative disagreement as part of the innovative process. While many people may be uncomfortable with a more confrontational approach at first, positive debate is very important for team creativity. Debate helps weed out poorly formed ideas and making people consider opposing points of view forces them to think in new ways, potentially leading to new innovative and creative approaches.

In one-on-one discussions with team members, try to balance disagreement with question asking. This keeps each side listening to each other instead of falling back into their own opinions. In team meetings, when discussion is appropriate, act like the moderator in a well-run political debate, alternatively interrogating the various creative options to deepen everyone’s understanding.

3. Demand Exceptional Work with Flexible Task Orientation

Be careful not to let creative debate get out of hand or derail productivity with constant conflict. The team must still be lead. While encouraging creative ideas and debate, leave room to remain partially a taskmaster, keeping people on schedule and dealing with problems as they arise.

Of course, this doesn’t mean sticking with a rigid, uncompromising schedule. Creativity and innovation require a more flexible approach than routine jobs. As the project evolves, change the schedule as necessary, but only if necessary. If the schedule changes every week you’ll have your team spinning. When problems or opportunities show up, try to incorporate them into the current schedule before completely changing things around, and try to keep within long-term goals even when changing the schedule.

4. Encourage Innovative and Creative Thinking

Finally, though it might seem obvious, make sure your team knows that they are expected to be creative and innovative. Encourage them when they are creative, including moving resources (if possible) onto projects that seem promising. This might seem obvious, but many leaders and employees have often spent time working in places that did not value new creative ideas and innovative change.

New team members may need a little time to adopt a more creative approach. Encourage them and engage them on new ideas even if you know you’ll have to turn them to some other task or project after a brief discussion. Even if at first they might have trouble with a fast-paced creative environment, most people will be happy once they realise the innovative freedom you allow.

There is no magic solution to creating an innovative and creative team climate. By itself, no amount of creative or innovative management initiatives and leadership will make a team of unqualified individuals into a creative and innovative powerhouse. You still need good people. Conversely, a team of amazing individuals can still fail when working in a poor innovation climate. Before blaming a team’s individuals, make sure the climate is right for their individual creativity to flow free and contribute value to the team. Between encouraging creative thinking, good organisation, dynamic decision making and the setting of clear expectations, your team should be humming with creative energy in no time, making it the innovative powerhouse you know it can be.