7 Easy Ways to Encourage Innovation on Your Team

Most leaders want to lead an innovative organization.

If you are like me, you don’t necessarily have to be the first to do something new, but you don’t want to be years behind either. As conservative as we might be, as long as we remain true to our core values, we still want to be “cutting edge” to some degree. We certainly don’t want to be stuck in the last decade.

But, here’s the problem.

As leaders, we can’t force innovation. We can’t mandate innovative people. And, if our people haven’t been innovative in a while, then there may not be much innovation going on in our world.

Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person. Great innovation comes from the gut. You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

There are things leaders can do, however, to encourage team members to be more innovative. I don’t even believe they have to be difficult.

Here are a 7 easy ideas to encourage innovation:

Get away from the office as a team.

There is something about a change in surroundings which encourages a change in thought. Take a trip to another church – or if nothing else – go somewhere different in your own city. Creative thoughts are fueled better outside your normal routine and environment. It’s a large investment, but we annually take our staff to visit with another church staff in a nearby city – far enough where must spend the night. Ideas comes from every time we do this. We have also held brainstorming retreats at other churches in our area and local businesses. Again, the change of place often fuels a change of thought.

Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions.

Questions can be gold for fueling ideas and creativity. Ask questions such as, “What are we doing well?” “Where could we improve?” “What should we stop doing?” You could bring someone in to guide this discussion if needed. Be sure to welcome diversity of thought. And, people know if they’re not welcome by the way you respond when they are shared. Create an environment where innovation and outside-the-box thinking is acceptable.

Reward new ideas.

If you recognize new thoughts and celebrate the success of innovation, people will want to be a part of it more. Make it a part of the DNA to elevate the value of innovation. Encourage thinking time. Don’t be afraid of “unproductive time” just to think. Teach the staff to discipline themselves to dream and plan. Make sure to build time to dream into your schedule as a leader. It helps if people know you do this – and if you actually share new ideas periodically – even often. Our team knows when I travel to expect me to return with some fresh perspective – even some wild ideas.

Have times together as a team that are simply fun.

Something magical happens when you get people who work together out of their work zone and into their fun zone. They often still talk work – it’s what they share in common – but they share work in a more innovative and productive way. And, really in a more honest way. Take a day and go bowling. A college near us has a ropes course we did together as a team. Simply having an intentional, but fun lunch together frequently can fuel new thoughts.

Remove obstacles to innovative thought.

There are always communication barriers between team members and senior leadership. Discovering and eliminating them could be an innovation waterfall. One way is to get in the room and have a real problem which needs to be solved – and not already have the answers. In fact, have few answers. Let the answers emerge. People love to solve a problem. Innovation will start to happen.

Invite new people to the table.

It could be people on the team or people in the community, but new people equals new ideas. We’ve often brought staff spouses to the table to fuel our thoughts. And, it could be through a book you read together as a team. Discuss the author’s perspectives together. Periodically meet with community leaders and ask them their impressions of the church. Glean ideas from them of what they are doing to promote innovation in their organizations.

Set innovation timeline goals.

If you want to eventually build a new website, for example, put a date on the calendar for when it MUST be completed. It’s amazing how creative we often become under a deadline.

What are some ideas you have to encourage innovation?

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9 thoughts on “7 Easy Ways to Encourage Innovation on Your Team

  1. Great list Ron – I would add the need to allow room to experiment which means it is OK to get something wrong. If the team feels they will be penalized if their ideas don't work out, they will be less likely to take the chances innovation requires.

  2. This is going to sound like a no brainer but a suggestion box for the community to put their suggestions in. Often you have great idea people that wouldn’t necessarily be on the team but have great ideas. Too often, especially new leaders, get overwhelmed and don’t know how to differentiate between someone who is just complaining and someone who is trying to bring real solutions and they shut down.

    And as a leader – humility and not deluding yourself that you can control everything will help you get out of the way so things can happen.