10 ways to build an innovative mindset in your team

Regardless of what industry you’re in, you can’t just play it safe to compete in today’s marketplace. Change is constant, and it’s the companies that embrace risk-taking, and aren’t afraid to fail, that are succeeding. Business leaders that are risk-adverse often think that creating an innovative culture is all about coming up with the next big idea, and they are too afraid to waste time and resources on a pursuit that could amount to nothing. However, innovation isn’t just about trying to develop a game changing idea, it’s a necessary part of creative problem solving, finding efficiencies to increase productivity and developing cost-effective solutions to stay ahead of competitors.

Innovation is more than just an ask 

Leaders that are receptive to instilling innovation into their corporate culture can fall into the trap of thinking that a simple “call to innovate” or two day “innovation lab” will lead to results. But like any behavioural change, it takes much more than an ask and a one-time pursuit to make a difference.

Below, we’ve rounded up the top 10 ways to build an innovative mindset in your team, and to truly do that, as a business leader you will need to implement almost all of the 10 points below to see a difference in your bottom line. It’s important to take a holistic approach when changing your culture --- remember it’s not about coming to the table with an ask, it’s about changing the way people think.

10 ways to build an innovative mindset in your team

  1. Lead by innovating yourself – As a leader you set the stage for what actions will be praised by your company and which won’t be tolerated. If you’re asking your team to innovate, show them how committed you are by demonstrating an innovative mindset yourself. Harvard Business Review used a comprehensive 360-degree feedback survey to identify 10 distinctive behaviours of innovative leaders. Try putting some of their behaviours in action, and you’ll soon see your teams will follow.
  1. Set aside company wide time to innovate - Google asks employees to set aside 20% of their time to work on any project they desire. It’s important to build in unstructured time into your team’s culture or they will be left with very little time to innovate. You can do this with one big chunk or spread out over the calendar year, but either way the most important signal that you are giving your teams permission to innovate is by giving them time.
  1. Create a loose operating structure Research shows that teams functioning within strict environments with specific processes and protocols are less likely to achieve their goals and create new ideas. Give your teams the freedom to think differently, using the tools they need, the way they want to. 
  1. Be honest about your risk tolerance – If you aren’t clear about how much failure you’re willing to allow, your employees will never take any risk. While it’s important that you do allow for some failure, this doesn’t mean you have to put your entire company at risk. Celebrate smart failures that lead to lessons learned or the generation of new ideas.
  1. Build an artistic environment – Facebook has an artist-in-residency program where artists work onsite to produce their work, which is seen by employees and often becomes part of the office environment. If you want your team to be innovative it’s important to create an environment that reflects that. This can be as simple as asking your team to create their own signs, putting up inspirational sayings, or reworking the décor of the office space.
  1. Scale management oversight back – If you’ve hired the right people to do their jobs, they will succeed when given autonomy to do their jobs right. Giving your team responsibility to make decisions will open up the possibility for them to innovate and will also instil a degree of ownership and pride in the work they do. If you scale back micromanaging, you will be surprised by how creative your team is.
  1. Provide an inspiring vision - Research proves that without a clear vision or goal, your team will not be able to direct their energy towards finding much-needed solutions or producing focused results. Whether the vision is about surprising and delighting your customers, or designing efficiencies and new processes internally, it’s important to give your team a purpose and focus for producing new ideas.
  1. Let people choose the project they think they can add value toFacebook engineers get to decide which team they think they should work on and where they believe they will contribute the most value. Instead of arbitrarily deciding who will be on your next project team, put out a call for project contributors, and ask your team members to decide where they think they can make the biggest impact.
  1. Use competition to motivate - There is no better motivator than a little team competition. Next time you have a problem to solve, or you’re looking for a new idea, ask your employees to break into teams and develop proposals or pitches within a constrained timeline. Let other employees in on the action by asking them to vote for the best idea.
  1. Reward innovation - Your team will be much more motivated to innovate when their ideas are recognized and approved by management regardless if they succeed or fail. Holding stand up meetings or carving out time for teams to present their ideas is a great way to encourage risk and accept failures. Share news of progress, create momentum and celebrate failures.

It’s important to recognize that innovation isn’t a straightforward process and there is no clear road to discovery. You might need to experiment with your team and try different ways to develop an innovative spirit within your culture. But remember, the most important step to take when it comes to innovation is embracing risk. If you know you are risk adverse, read our tips on how to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset—this will help gear you up to become the innovative leader you want to be.