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How do we keep the spirit of innovation thriving in the day-to-day environment of regular business?
To answer that, I'd like to share a story.
One Wednesday afternoon, a member of our company shared a global competition in one of our messaging channels. It was a type of hackathon where people from across the world could submit proposals to solve problems in various categories.
The first round was due the following Sunday, so I threw out a shot in the dark: Should we enter? The answer was a resounding yes.
Every member of the channel, including myself, dove into a co-creation session that Friday. And we worked through the weekend to come up with an idea and submit an application. We were selected to participate in the program. Over the coming months, our team collaborated to develop our pitch and create the materials needed to move through each round. The 100 companies selected to participate were quickly whittled down to 28 in the semi-finals to only nine in the finals and eventually to four category winners, including us! What started as a simple mid-week message led us to a multiple-month collaboration to amplify new and exciting ideas. And now, we even have the opportunity to take our concept and experiment with it in the market, supported by the four global enterprises — in four different continents — that sponsored the challenge.
As you can see, entrepreneurship and innovation can flourish in the corporate environment — but not without intention. If we want to create companies where innovation thrives, we cannot sit back and wait for our teams to feel inspired. We need to take action. So what did we do at my company that allowed for this burst of collaboration to take place? Read on to find out.
Connect to your purpose
All innovation begins with a shared purpose. In this case, our purpose was to create a compelling pitch to win the challenge. However, you don't need a global competition to provide your teams with purpose. A shared purpose can (and should) be found in the everyday.
Base meetings and discussions around your team's purpose and goals. Don't be afraid to go micro. What is your goal for the week? For this specific client meeting? For the next pitch? Every action your team takes, no matter how small, should be tied to your collective purpose.
Finally, reassess and reinforce your vision frequently to ensure everyone is still in alignment with what you are trying to accomplish. When your team unites around a shared purpose, collaboration will flourish.
Provide your employees with a sense of agency
The shared purpose we found in completing this challenge did not come from any directive from on high. It was a purpose we found together. Nobody instructed us to participate or said that the competition was essential to the company. And no one on the team stopped what they were already doing — everybody still had the responsibilities and obligations of their day jobs — but found extra energy (and ever scarce time) to work on the challenge.
Our participation was entirely born out of the individuals who willingly decided to give their time and expertise to this project. Because of that, each of us felt a great sense of ownership over our work and were deeply invested in our shared success.
When you allow your employees to have that sense of ownership, you give them the space (and permission) to step out of their usual day-to-day constraints and think outside the box. In this space, employees can come up with new and exciting ideas and initiatives.
Cultivate conversations where team members are encouraged to set their own goals and bounce around new ideas. By giving your employees a greater sense of agency, you make their work personal. And when they are writing their own stories, they will make sure they're good ones.
Highlight each person's unique contribution
Every employee has a unique set of skills to bring to the table without which your business could not function.
The team we had for our challenge was no different. We had people from across the company — from business to design and product development to coding. Furthermore, I was the most senior person on the team, but that was unimportant. Another member of the team had only been with our company for six months and contributed just as much as I did. Each team member had a unique perspective to offer, and each member's input was invaluable to our success.
When every individual feels their contributions are valued, they are more likely to engage in a deep way. They will be unafraid to speak up because they know their perspective will be heard and considered.
In order to create truly unique work, you need an outstanding team. Make sure each team member feels supported in what they uniquely bring to the table. Innovation cannot thrive if people do not think their voice matters.
Validate your team's accomplishments
Sure, our team may have won an award, but a global competition isn't the only way to validate your team. Even sending an email or highlighting a particularly great job by an employee in a chat can give them a sense of pride in their work and the work of others.
One of the wonderful aspects of the challenge was that it allowed us to see up-close our team members' work — work that we might not see during our regular routines. It allowed us to understand how our collective effort led to our success, and there was a sense of genuine pride in each person's contribution.
Name the wins — big and small — that your team members accrue through their work. Show them how each individual contributes to the overall success of your company and cultivate a sense of pride in the process.
I do not know exactly what the future will hold, but I know one thing that will not change: people crave connection. One of the best ways to find that is through collaboration and uniting around a shared purpose. People want to connect, and they want to feel inspired but you have to provide an environment conducive to doing so.
It is possible to maintain an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit within your company. Take the action I've outlined in this article and, before long, you will see innovation thrive.