We continually hear about innovation and strive to keep engaging our teams to put the right skills and processes for innovation into practice. At the same time, we know that fostering just the right culture for the team to be innovative is important – but often overlooked.

How do you go about fostering an innovative team? Here are 4 guidelines we’ve pulled together:

  1. Make the team as diverse as possible; diversity and innovation are a proven combination… which means that one of the keys to innovative teams is to make certain you have a diversity of thought, generations, experiences, perspectives, genders, cultures, etc. When GE shifted from homogeneous to diverse teams, the productivity gain went from 13% to 21% (Study conducted by Towers Perrin, Atlanta, Georgia, 1995) Study after study proves this to be true – diverse teams are more innovative than homogeneous teams.That said, are they just as easy to manage? No, it take more time and more skills to bring together diverse perspectives among team members who may have conflicting points of view, but it’s necessary to develop innovation.
  2. Leverage each person’s gifts… too many times team roles are defined narrowly based on functional or technical responsibilities. Taking the time to get to know more broadly how a person can contribute to a team and letting go of pre-conceived roles can open up possibilities that can transform the capabilities of even the smallest team. One example could be gender roles, Catalyst found that companies with the most women on their boards of directors earned a 26% higher return on invested capital than companies with the fewest women; this same finding has been confirmed by McKinsey & Company, adding that operating profit was as much as 56% higher. (New York Times, October 24, 2013)Creating a list of skills required for the team and then having people sign up can be a way to find out about motivation and interest as well as the specific skills required for the team to be successful. For example, a person who is great at financials might also have creative capabilities because of a hobby outside the workplace and can help with marketing or communication. People have a lot of gifts, some of which are easily seen and some are hidden gems.
  3. Tolerate and even encourage mistakes in the name of risk-taking… in service of innovation, there has to be an openness to be bold and even completely “off” in a culture of tolerance and acceptance. What this means is that everyone truly believes – and sees this “real time” – that mistakes are acceptable and even encouraged. Of course, the “set-up” here is that everyone on the team wins as long as they are working together to accomplish the vision and “watch one another’s backs.”In Fact, the article Beating The Odds When You Launch A New Venture By Clark G. Gilbert and Matthew J. Eyring in the Harvard Business Review argues that risk management is a core competency of entrepreneurs, and learning from taking risks is what drives innovation.
  4. Take the time to listen and learn… in our fast-paced culture of executing against short-term goals, the idea of truly listening to one another, being open to what the person is saying without jumping right in with your own thoughts, and taking time to think about and learn from one another is actually a very difficult concept to put into action. However, this is the most-essential concept to creating an innovative culture because only by taking time to learn from one another can innovation ever truly happen.

Building a culture of innovation and collaboratin does not happen overnight, it is a process. We hope these guidelines help you continue in your process and encourage innovation in your leadership.

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