Organizing for innovation

Part 2: Why telling an innovation team what to do is ineffective

In part 1, see below, I discussed the importance of getting each innovation team to a successful outcome. Getting from a 20% to an 80% success rate is very doable, even when your organization does not have much of a culture for innovation. Keeping teams focused and organized is the trick.

What could happen if teams stay focused and organized?

What would it mean for your organization if >80% of your innovation teams would be successful? That is, if all your teams would get to tested solutions within 6 months or they find out they should not put any more time into their project within 2 weeks.

Knowing that innovation projects will deliver makes a huge difference for management too. How awesome would it be if everything got done that had to get done? A high rate of innovation success is also empowering for talent – it signals that it pays off to address challenges and opportunities. In sum, having an innovation process that delivers is energizing for the organization – but I am probably preaching to the choir.

So, how do you keep teams focused and organized? As I hinted at in my previous email, it is not by telling teams what to do. Ever raised a teenager? Telling them what to do, makes them typically do the opposite. It is not that different with innovation teams.

Unsolicited advice

Unsolicited advice often feels critical rather than helpful. If it's repetitive it can turn into nagging. Unsolicited advice can also undermine people’s ability to figure out what’s right for them, to solve their own problems.

Giving unsolicited advice can be a frustrating experience for the advice-giver, as well. When your advice isn’t taken or appreciated, we often feel upset, hurt, or resentful.

So why do we keep giving unsolicited advice:

  • We want to be helpful.
  • We want to get someone to do what we want or what we think is right.
  • We think we have the answers, that we know more than others.
  • Were excited about the new product, idea, or service and would like to see it succeed.
  • We want to contribute.

However, Psychology Today wrote about people giving unsolicited advice: “ In terms of their personality style, unsolicited advice-givers tend to be grandiose, believing that they are more intelligent, special, or sensible than others. Unsolicited advice-givers wouldn’t give advice if they didn't believe that their feedback about how to approach a given situation was optimal or superior. These men and women tend to operate in daily life with the mindset that the world would run much more smoothly if only they could make all the decisions.” Ouch!

Telling teams what to do is similar to giving unsolicited advice and therefore not an option. The team won’t like it. They won’t listen, and it will only be frustrating for you. So, how do you share the knowledge that you have and prevent teams from making avoidable mistakes?

Ask the right questions at the right time

Let’s get back to the teenager example. Telling your teen that you would be picking him up from the party at 10 pm probably will lead to a revolt. The better way around that – at least something that worked for me – was asking my teen – how do you plan to get home after the party? That made him think and weigh his options. It either led to – perhaps I can sleep over or “mom, would you be willing to pick me up?”. The latter clearly put me in a much better negotiation position about the pick-up time.

It works exactly the same with your teams. Instead of telling them, I don’t think there is use for this solution in our organization, this is a better conversation to have:

You: Who is going to use this solution?

Innovator: Everyone!

You: Can you perhaps be more specific so I can introduce you to the right people? For example, who are you going to ask to pioneer the solution?

Innovator: That is a good question – let me think about that.

Know which question to ask and when!

When you learn how to operate the Steering Wheel – you will know which questions to ask and when. The Steering Wheel platform does the heavy lifting in making sure each team addresses the right questions at the right time.

Our next Innovation Facilitator Program starts this January. We limit our group size to 10 participants, so contact us if you or someone else in your organization would be interested in participating, as the available slots are filling up. We will happily provide you with more information about the dates and costs of this Program.

In any case, I will be following up in the next blog of this series with a few more tips on how to facilitate innovation teams. In part 3, I will discuss the best way to go about asking the right questions at the right time – because asking a series of questions can be equally off-putting as telling a team what to do





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