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‘Innovation’ can be a bit of a buzzword sometimes.
Of course, every company or business wants to be considered innovative and most leaders want to encourage innovation in their products or services from their teams, but what does “innovation” really mean?
How can a company build a culture that actively encourages innovation from within?
In order to stimulate innovation from a team, it’s important for leaders to remove its greatest barrier – fear.
Fear stifles innovation and prevents a culture of change within a company, which ultimately stagnates growth. Leaders need to actively encourage corporate culture change by building new habits that remove fear and celebrate bravery if they truly want to stimulate innovative thinking.
How to Build a Culture of Fearlessness
There’s never been a path to innovation without a few mistakes along the way. This article will share a few tips for business leaders to support innovative thinking from their team.
1. Stop spreading fear.
Before anything, leaders must examine themselves closely to determine if they may be the cause of fear amongst their team.
There are many ways that leaders inadvertently cause fear within their employees and it’s important that they become conscious of this if they want to be a better leader. Even if there is no intention of intimidation, it’s not hard for it to happen within a relationship that holds a pre-determined power dynamic.
Here are a few common bad habits of leaders that might be causing fear in a team:
- Cutting people during conversations
- Ignoring staff during a meeting
- Calling staff out for mistakes in front of their team
- Immediately dismissing new ideas
Try to observe your inclinations objectively the next time you meet with your team and see if you’re guilty of any of these fear-instilling habits. If so, start taking steps to change your own behavior before you try to change your team’s.
2. Establish structured criticism.
It’s important to help teams understand that there isn’t always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but rather there are sets of advantages and disadvantages to every idea. Further to this, it’s critical to encourage a careful analysis of every side of a potential idea to truly strike at the heart of innovation.
However, a fearful team might not feel comfortable sharing criticism if they think there is any personal risk to their reputation or their role.
This can be overcome by establishing structured criticism which essentially grants permission to team members to become critical because they are being asked to do so.
For example, a leader might assign a few members of a team to play devil’s advocate on a project proposal to help encourage more critical feedback to optimize the direction of the project.
3. Stop speaking first.
When you are consulting with a team to encourage brainstorming or collaboration on a project, it’s important that leaders step back and let their team do some of the talking first.
When you are in a position of power, if your perspective or opinion is well-established with the team prior to their participation, it is more likely that you will influence their input to reflect yours. Speaking first also overshadows the value of other people’s input because it follows a traditional hierarchical expectation, which dissuades team members from fully expressing their own opinion, especially if it deviates from yours in any way.
Here are a few ways that you can encourage others to speak first:
- Ask individuals about their thoughts directly.
- Practice active listening and reaffirm team members perspectives.
- Express gratitude to those that participate.
4. Help People See The Bigger Picture
Sometimes critical feedback can feel very personal, even if it isn’t.
People are inherently tied to their ideas, but it’s the role of a leader to help them see how their participation feeds into a larger vision and that success comes from the culmination of many people’s collaboration.
Leaders should focus on helping team members break outside of the confinements of their individual roles to understand how it interrelates with other people from across the company. Ultimately, they need to know how their ideas and actions affect the company as a whole.
If there is an understanding of this, then team members won’t feel like pressure to perform lies solely on them and it will encourage a little more creative room for new ideas.
A Culture of Fearlessness Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Building a corporate culture of fearlessness won’t happen instantly. It takes dedication from leaders and participation from the entire company to build habits and positive reinforcement.
Ultimately, people need to know that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as they are trying to improve.
Leaders need to encourage participation, provide thoughtful feedback, practice active listening, and demonstrate their own vulnerability to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for everyone across the team.
An environment that is open-minded and fearless against failure is the perfect environment to accelerate innovation.
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