How to Leverage Diverse Thinking From Your Teams To Drive Innovation
Hiring a diverse workforce is not enough. People must be trained to work with difference, and the importance of diverse ideas and process must be cultivated in order for a company to spur creative thinking. It requires people to manage up, down and across peers to work through differences, be receptive to good ideas no matter where they originate, and encourage risk taking.
When you’re forced to stay out of your comfort zone and are challenged by new information and points of view, the creative part of your mind is stimulated. These are just a few of the ways that having diverse teams can contribute to innovative thinking and processes: A diversity of opinions and experiences encourage creativity, adaptability and original thinking; diverse environments that value individual opinions are more likely to create a sustainable shift in one’s mindset; diverse teams are able to leverage their more extensive networks and cultural capital to increase what is possible or thought to be possible to achieve.
To create a culture of innovation, new ideas and risk-taking need to be encouraged and not penalized. As a leader, approach each individual team member and assess how they might push into new territory and what that looks like for them. It’s also important to know how each team member takes in information, processes it and then spits it back out. You will need to be attuned to these differences in thought and process and create a variety of organizational opportunities for ideas to come to the table. Consider these strategies:
- Diversify your forums for debate and exchange.To capture the widest possible variety of ideas and opinions, you need to offer a wide range of organizational opportunities where people can exchange ideas and debate their merits. These can range from a suggestion box or feedback forms or designated blue-sky days.
- Create sponsors at all levels. As you’re building this environment, ensure there are sponsors for each team member and initiatives at all levels of the hierarchy. Create a culture where everyone at all levels is valued. If someone has a great idea, there is a forum or channel for that innovation to be tapped. Ensure people are open to a full team perspective.
- Access internal and external voices to drive innovation. Innovative thinking requires that you hear from all the participants at all angles. Internally, it’s crucial that you are listening vertically down the command chain and that departments hear one another’s perspectives. Forge ways to connect to external points of view and close the customer gap. Speak to the people who are in direct contact with your customers, or connect regularly with virtual and offsite teams to get their perspective.
If there is one prerequisite to harnessing the full creative power of tomorrow’s talent, it is this: We must be able to address and navigate through difference. We mustn’t be afraid to have the conversation and work through complicated, misunderstood, messy or loaded issues. And we must become willing to go outside our own comfort zones and extend an invitation toward those different from us to meet in the middle.
If there is to be a change in how we recruit, reward and advance our best talent, it means committing to practice and persistence, continuing to apply the principles of flex while making it a part of your ingrained management process.