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5 ways to keep teams excited about experimenting and innovating

Under the pressures of business needs, creativity and experimenting often get less time and resources, especially for projects in the periphery. Here’s how to make sure they get the attention they deserve.

5 ways to keep teams excited about experimenting and innovating
[Source illustration: TCmake_photo/iStock]

The desire to create, experiment, and innovate is intrinsic. Humans were made to make things. That’s why we have things like buildings and shoes. This simple truth makes it easy to keep your internal teams excited about experimenting and innovating because it’s probably what they really like about their jobs. You just have to provide the necessary ingredients. 

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The reality of doing business often makes this difficult to achieve. You simply can’t leave out deadlines, strategic priorities, or group dynamics. Under the pressures of business needs, creativity and experimenting often get less time and fewer resources, especially for projects in the periphery. 

But it’s during these experiments that innovation most likely happens. Somewhere in the messy percolating mind melds of one of your teams likely exists a nugget of half a thought that could lead to a breakthrough. Given time and resources to focus on it, that idea just might see the light of day. 

Let’s say you have the time and resources to experiment with new ideas but you’ve been going at it for years with no results. Excitement and optimism have waned. Sound familiar? I’ve seen this time after time at organizations small and large. I’ve often thought about why this is during my 15-year professional journey. 

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I joined my current team because the culture was ripe for innovation, especially as a new team and studio with a united purpose. Working together, we simplified many of the ingredients you need to create an innovating team to just five things we could implement immediately to keep our teams excited about experimenting and innovating.

Create the work you want to do

Everyone wants to work on something they find interesting. Creating that work at an agency means that you’re usually responding to briefs from clients. Similarly, internal teams respond to briefs from management or other departments. It can be difficult to control what you work on in these setups with larger organizations. If you’re in one of these situations, it’s helpful to reimagine every opportunity to find an aspect you find interesting. And just focus on that. This has helped me find purpose in almost every project I’ve worked on. It still works today when we get briefs that aren’t so exciting. 

In order to really create the work we want to do, we’re trying something different. We’re calling it proactive pitching where we start with an idea and take it to potential clients, partners, or VCs for funding. We’re excited about this new business strategy because we’ll be deciding what we want to work on as a team. 

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Really enjoy doing that work

With remote working here to stay and more job opportunities within the global market, we can be choosier about where we work and how we spend our time. What makes us enjoy our work can mean a lot of things from doing projects closely aligned to our skillset to having a strong management team that listens and responds to the team’s needs.

Hire for the skills versus the title

If you don’t have the skills you need for the work at hand, or people are in the wrong roles, you can’t produce amazing work. if you can’t produce great work, your team won’t enjoy doing the work next time. Excitement and optimism can fade quickly when they realize their efforts are held back by a weak team. We focus on hiring for skills versus the title and look for multidimensional, curious, and kind people. 

Prioritize psychological safety

This starts at the top. If you have a hierarchical system, as is often the case in many companies, politics naturally ensue. In toxic cases, fear and intimidation often trickle down from the top. If people don’t feel comfortable speaking up in large meetings, how could they possibly be comfortable enough to make a mistake or fail on a project? We’ve been told to take risks and fail quickly. But what if failure meant cut budgets, jobs, or even teams? What if success meant individual recognition of the same folks who have political prowess? Without psychological safety, your talent is probably too drained or distracted to get excited about experimenting with anything.

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When too many people are involved, culture can be challenging to manage and there doesn’t seem to be a way around hierarchy for large organizations. This is where smaller teams have an advantage when it comes to psychological safety. Our studio interacts with our executives daily and management overall listens and responds to the team’s needs. It’s apparent that the authenticity of our executives has a trickle-down effect that creates a relaxed and psychologically safe environment for people to speak their minds, work autonomously, and be themselves.

Provide a growth environment

Humans need to feel progress to feel a sense of purpose. Sometimes, even in the best of environments innovation is hard to come by and progress can feel stagnant. 

Providing a growth environment means finding ways to be detached from projects and outcomes. This is where the group dynamic matters so much. Without a strong culture, the team’s support system is weak. Feedback loops are disengaging. Internal projects drag on. Self-initiated exploration and experimenting stifle along the way. Multiply that by a few too many members and you’ve got another long stretch of lackluster innovation.

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To implement a growth environment, start with the right team with the potential to build up a strong support system based on trust. Add management that allows it to happen, and you might find that people generally like to grow for themselves. Put them with people who have the skills they need or people they like, and they’ll find ways to grow as a team over time. 


Yujin Lee is the executive creative director at B-Reel.


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