Driving Collaboration – Diverse Opinion is the Key to Innovation

HYPE Innovation is producing a series of five articles to help innovation practitioners and those new to collaborative enterprise innovation, understand how to build a successful and sustainable program. In this article we share insights on driving collaboration between your employees.

Each article is addressing a different theme, will focus on clear actions any company can take, and highlight pitfalls to avoid. Our previous articles of this series have covered topics such as the benefits of software platforms in enterprise innovation, internal communications and increasing engagement.

The importance of collaboration

The value of inter-employee collaboration can be best observed when looking at a new product, service, or perhaps process and then tracing back how it found a path to implementation. In-fact, consider anything that’s new and look carefully at the journey it took. Now compare the finalproduct with the initial idea that inspired it;was there a business case oran implementation plan? Was it a fully rounded concept and tested at that stage? Of course that would be very unusual, indeed it’s been through a series of steps to get there.

What you discover is that this initial idea has been: developed, criticized, improved, tested, and refined. Consider how each of those steps occurred and you’ll understand thatit took a series of interventions from either the idea originator or others to get the product where it is today. Collaboration has happened and we didn’t even think about it. At each step, someone with a different perspective intervened and helped move the idea forward, and in some cases, backwards before it could go forward again.

This is a process we’re used to. People have different strengths and help in different ways. In an online world, we need to find ways to encourage those same behaviors at the frontend of the process.

Why don’t organizations collaborate better online?

  1.  Focus is on the most creative types – Those perceived as innovators often win the prize, they’re the ones held up as role models and winners. Often our programs are badged ‘innovation’ and therefore attract those that consider themselves most creative above all others.
  2.  Collaboration is not recognized as a helpful behavior –We unwittingly reinforce the message that those with new ideas are the people we care about most by publically recognizing or rewarding the person with the initial idea.
  3.  Little empathy for those that ‘help’ – If you’ve helped to make an idea better but then didn’t receive any recognition, you’re unlikely to feel the program really values your efforts. Indeed this may mean that you won’t help again or perhaps with a little less gusto than you may have previously.
  4.  We don’t show people what ‘good’ collaboration looks like – Where are the examples of what a good ‘helper’ could do, how can they add to the process? Many online programs are full of individual ideas and comments that say ‘great idea!’, this simply reinforces the perception that ‘adding value’ will come later, there’s no need to get involved unless you have a great idea of your own.
  5.  Too much content – Broad or vague campaign questions to engaged audiences often lead to a lot of diverse content, it’s hard to wade through, it all looking for where you can improve ideas that are most engaging to you. In fact, it takes far more time than submitting an idea of your own to read through others, so a busy employee group will quickly get drawn into other things.

Key activities to boost collaboration between employees:

  1. Request the behaviors you want to see – When launching a program, issuing a campaign or inviting people to share ideas, put equal weight on the request for people to help each other and look to make existing content better.
  2. Show people what to do– Never invite people to submit content unless you have example ideas and comments included already, this shows early visitors what a ‘good’ comment looks like and helps encourage more and higher quality commenting in general. For example, a good comment could improve an idea, constructively questioning a weak point, or inviting those with expert knowledge to comment on specific aspect of the idea.
  3. Engineer the right behaviors by live intervention– Foster the support of ‘community volunteers’, a close network of innovation advocates that look at submitted content every day and ask questions, connect people and demonstrate all the behaviors you wish to see from the wider audience.
  4. Organize your content – A large mass of uncategorized ideas makes it very difficult for others to find content that’s of interest to them. Encourage idea tagging and for invitees to subscribe to content they like the best and link similar ideas so invitees can browse more easily.
  5. Recognize those that add value – When taking an idea forward, ensure you recognize and thank all of those that have helped get it to its current position. Make that recognition public where appropriate so that other invitees see it’s a team game.
  6. Encourage peer-to-peer idea referral – Encourage idea submitters to actively engage their peers for commenting by demanding a minimum number of comments before an idea moves forward to the next stage.

Summary

We know the value of collaboration in traditional innovation activities, but systemizing the process helps to increase the diversity of opinion available early on in the process. If harnessed correctly, this will improve the quality of the funnel and save time later on as those with issues or concerns may have them addressed during the ideation phase.
Value those that comment and recognize the team of people that contribute to an idea. Show them how they can add value to other ideas, and reinforce in your communications that collaboration has value whilst the company changes the way it collaborates.

What’s next?

In the final article of this series, HYPE will consider how to review a large number of ideas. We’ll share tips and shortcuts to helping make the most of your evaluation teams time.

By Colin Nelson

About the author



Colin Nelson is Director of Strategic Consulting at HYPE Innovation. Colin is a subject matter expert and thought leader, helping clients engage their enterprise to support existing or newly established programs on Innovation, Cost Reduction and Business Transformation. Recent clients include Abbot Labs, BASF, General Mills, Metso & Swisslog.

Photo: Close-up team working from Shutterstock.com

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