Robert Half recently asked executives about the biggest roadblocks to organizational breakthroughs. 35 percent of chief financial officers said "a lack of new ideas" is the most difficult barrier to innovation. 24 percent cited bureaucracy as the top killer of creativity with 20 percent blaming being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires.
Responses from 1,400 some odd CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies all answered the following question: "What is the greatest barrier to your company being more innovative?" Here are the responses:
- Lack of new ideas—35%
- Too much bureaucracy—24%
- Being bogged down in daily tasks or putting out fires—20%
- Ineffective leadership—9%
- Don't know/no answer—11%
I don't think anyone would disagree that innovation is what helps keep companies growing and profitable. Environments that foster innovation also keep employees engaged and excited about coming to work every day. Robert Half suggests six tips for creating an environment that inspires innovation among teams. I like the list:
- Engage the entire team: If we can't engage the team in what we're doing, we've lost before we've even begun. This should be no surprise to anyone who leads a project team—particularly those who work with matrixed teams cobbled together throughout the organization. Although I'm fortunate enough to work with the same team on almost every project, many project managers aren't so lucky. Facilitating an environment where team members feel engaged isn't brain surgery, but it does require some effort. Is your team engaged? Here's a brief quiz that should give you an idea.
- Remove the red tape: This often manifests itself in lengthy approval processes that force work to a standstill. I once heard a colleague lament, "I want to produce. I don't want to sit around all day thinking about producing." Sometimes it's a matter of empowering people to make decisions about their specific role. A few years back I learned of three keys to smart decision making, I've tried to embrace them because nobody wants to be forced into asking "Mother, may I?" every time they need to make a decision.
- Keep it collaborative: Collaboration is more important than competition. It's critical to create environments where people can effectively collaborate and work together. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't agree that a collaborative work environment is more productive, yet far too many organizations don't create environments that encourage collaboration. Not long ago I wrote about four key elements that should be part of a collaborative environment, collaboration can sometimes be messy because we all have divergent opinions, but it's well worth the efforts.
- Build a better brainstorm: We've all been in brainstorming sessions that felt like a waste of time bouncing ideas around that all sounded stupid—until we landed on that one really great idea. I've discovered that you've got to go through a lot of really bad ideas before you identify the good ones. I've also noticed that this gets easier the more you do it.
- Give 'em a break: I've discovered that mistakes increase for every hour over nine or ten hours people work in a day. Burnout is a serious problem and in reality, when teams are putting in a lot of overtime, it's an indication of a project in trouble—not a successful initiative. I grew up in an era when the amount of time you spent on the job was a badge of honor. I'm not sure I feel that way anymore. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO leaves the office at 5:30 pm every evening, "Are you putting in the hours?" might not be the right question anymore.
- Seek inspiration: As the project leader, its important that you have the skills you'll need to inspire the team. That also implies that you are inspired yourself. Make sure you set aside time to do whatever it is you do to unwind and clear your head. For me, there's nothing like sitting on the saddle of my motorcycle or in a comfortable chair with a good book. I recently discovered that reading a novel is actually considered a great way to help master interpersonal relationships (as well as unwind). Whatever it is, make sure you spend time recharging your own batteries.
What are the barriers to innovation within your organization? Among your project team members? What are you doing about it?
—Ty Kiisel, AtTask