Fostering innovation despite the daily routines
It’s easy for all of us to get caught up in our daily work and routines, especially if you have a well-established team and product. If your company is growing, so are the expectations of your stakeholders, so you feel fortunate if you’re part of a well-oiled machine and if you have your individual fires under control. But wait. You need to innovate. You want to set your company and your customers up for long term success, and you can’t do that if you’re either complacent or constantly fighting fires. Let’s think about some things you can do to foster innovation without giving up your regular responsibilities.
I can’t say enough good things about what we at Hannon Hill call ShipIt Days, more commonly known as FedEx Days. While the logistics of the implementation may vary for each organization, the general idea is that each team member chooses a project to work on for 24 hours, either on their own or in collaboration with others (if it’s someone from another department, consider this a win), to produce a product of some kind. The result could be a new feature, a process improvement, a recommendation for a new tool to use, additional documentation for your users, or a brand-new company initiative. Don’t put any parameters on what your staff can select. Let them run with their ideas. Be sure to provide delicious and nutritious meals. After 24 hours, have each individual or team present their project. Part of the presentation should be to deliver a rollout plan. We actually just had a ShipIt Day last week, and I can honestly say that each project needs to be implemented.
One of the best ways to collaborate with people outside of your department is to join a task force. This could be any initiative that you feel passionate about, such as improving customer service, making the office environment more fun and productive, incentivizing a healthy lifestyle, or optimizing the QA process. Task forces allow your team members to pursue causes that they are passionate about, and they can really get people to think outside their daily routine and make suggestions that can be course-changing.
Team Meetings and Activities
I know, I know. You want to reduce the number of meetings. However, don’t underestimate the power of weekly team gatherings. If possible, have a catered lunch, as eating together is a nice bonding experience. In order to make those meetings more interesting and less monotonous, consider letting different departments take over as hosts. Maybe one day, you can all watch a TED talk together and discuss it afterwards. Another time, ask each team member to talk about their favorite productivity hack.
Team activities outside of regular meetings can also provide new perspectives. For instance, we do community service once a quarter, such as planting trees, or helping at an animal shelter or schools. Even though those activities have nothing to do with our software, giving back to the community refreshes our sense of purpose and gets us out of our own heads.
A change of scenery can invigorate your innovative mindset, and annual retreats are an excellent way to recharge. Be sure to mix fun and strategic activities. For instance, you can start off the day by dividing your team into groups and asking each group to work on a presentation on a specific topic such as “What are the top three challenges for our company and what do you recommend we do to overcome them?”. Once everyone has presented, the fun activities can begin.
The good old suggestion box can be an effective way to encourage people to share their ideas. You can also create a virtual box, which can be as simple as a Google spreadsheet. After every month or every quarter, have your team members vote on the best and reward the winner with a gift.
Some of the most innovative ideas are born in an environment in which people know that they are not just allowed but encouraged to try new things. Whenever possible, let your team members spend time on special projects, celebrate change, let (fast) failure be okay, and have ad hoc conversations in which you ask poignant questions and solicit suggestions.
When it comes to innovation, don’t just think about your product, but also about your processes, your office environment, your policies, and every aspect of your company. When done right, all of it will be reflected in better products and better service.
What about you? How do you encourage innovation while keeping up with your daily tasks?