Four people in a meeting writing at a wooden table

How to Enhance Your Team’s Innovation

Have you ever shared your idea only to find out weeks later that members of your team had better ones but they didn’t feel comfortable sharing them with you during the discussion? They indicated your idea was awesome but didn’t have the courage to share alternative thoughts.

The reason for this is that often our suggestions as leaders are interpreted as directions by our teams. They hear us make a suggestion and translate that into an action they need to take thinking we’re actually giving direction. When this happens, they unintentionally stop the flow of ideas. 

“A leader’s suggestions are often interpreted as directions.”

How To Enhance Team Innovation

If you’ve experienced this as a leader, have no fear. Your heart is in the right place, and you’re truly just making a suggestion as part of the ideation you and your team were doing together. You want the best ideas to surface within your team and to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. 

However, the key to fostering a culture of innovation and ideation isn’t always in sharing your thoughts first. It’s found in the phrase, “The best idea always wins”. It doesn’t matter who or where the idea came from. A culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas together is one where the best idea always wins. If leaders truly believed that they didn’t always have the best ideas, they’d be more intentional to create space for ideas to be shared, marinated on, and ultimately shaped into the best idea for their team. 

“The best idea should always win.”

Below are 3 practical tips focused on driving engagement, collaboration, and innovation for the best idea to always win on your teams.

1. Listen, Learn, Lead 

As leaders, our temptation is to reverse this order. We default to leading first. However, when we listen and learn first, it actually helps us be more effective and efficient at the leading part. 

This takes discipline and patience. It takes sitting back and not speaking when everything inside you wants to jump in. It requires you to become a rock star at asking probing questions that bring the best out of your team members. Simon Sinek says, “Leaders eat last”. That could not be more important than when cultivating cultures to enhance team innovation and ideation.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t share your ideas and fail to participate in the ideation session. Your ideas are valuable and needed. But, if your goal is to create a culture that brings out the best ideas from everyone instead of them just jumping in line behind yours, listen first.

In her book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Weisman breaks down the concept of accidentally diminishing a team member’s intelligence in nine different ways. Accidentally diminishing is when a well-intentioned leader subtly and completely unaware shuts down the intelligence of others. To create a culture where the best idea wins, leaders need a level of emotional intelligence to know how they shut down others. Become more aware of your accidental diminishing tendencies, by reading our Wildsparq guide

2. Be Transparent

Clearly and intentionally share with your team that your thoughts are only suggestions and not directions. Give them permission to challenge your ideas or take your idea and run with it to make it better. Saying this out loud helps free your team up to engage and participate. 

At first, you may still have teammates who don’t feel comfortable challenging your idea. This will decrease if you intentionally create an environment where this is the norm. Remember, keep iterating that the best idea will always win no matter where it comes from.

3. Have Your Team Meet Without You

As the leader, give your team a topic with some direction and have them meet together to discuss or brainstorm without you present. Then, come back together and have them share their outcomes with you. This relieves the pressure that “the boss” is present and may not like their ideas. 

Get creative. Work to create an environment where ideas are encouraged and not unintentionally subverted or withheld. The key to doing this is taking yourself out of the initial meeting environment.

Choose the BEST Idea Always

To flip the script from direction to suggestion and foster a culture where the best idea always wins:

  1. listen first
  2. establish a norm where your thoughts are solely suggestions and
  3. be ok with your team meeting without you

Ultimately, as the leader, you get to enhance team innovation and choose the level of ideation your team has. If ideas outside your own ever feel few and far between, take time to reflect on ways you may be accidentally diminishing your team’s creativity. Be the pacesetter that builds an engaged, high-performing team who consistently delivers business results by recognizing and rewarding great ideas and allowing the best idea to always win. Leaders Ready!
For more from Liz Wiesman, read her book. Connect with us to increase levels of emotional intelligence on your team.