Itching to advance your career? Your strategy has to go way beyond “merely” producing stellar work. Today, executives want their fellow leaders to showcase innovation and foster collaboration. A YPO Global Pulse study found that 62% of higher-ups ranked either employees or colleagues as their chief source of innovation inspiration. You can show your bosses that you’re ready to fuel disruptive ideas—and join the management ranks—by sparking innovation within your team.
Innovators tend to get noticed, and good collaborators tend to innovate. In a 2017 survey, PwC highlighted the link between collaboration and innovation, with a whopping 86% of CEOs reporting that they viewed collaboration as a very important skill. According to LinkedIn, collaboration is still a top soft skill in 2020. The bottom line is that operating in a silo, no matter how productive you think you’re being, probably won’t get you very far up the corporate ladder.
Although some people may argue that the germs of innovation start in one brain, collective thinking has proven itself as an effective way to generate new concepts. For instance, an active workshop session where participants are encouraged to quickly form ideas and build on the best ones naturally leads to cross-pollination. It can be difficult for a single employee to flesh out big-picture plans and theories alone; assigning a group to problem-solve can lead to visionary concepts.
Of course, if you want to improve your career prospects at your job, you must work within the current organizational structure. You have to actively participate in finding solutions by working with folks from all areas. Branch out beyond your department from time to time and lend a helping hand. As long as your core duties aren’t suffering, your willingness to collaborate and cultivate innovation will be noticed. And that will put you in better standing when you pursue an opportunity to advance.
Not sure how best to get everyone in your sphere of influence revved up for some collaborative innovation? Adopt these techniques and make them part of your everyday strategies.
1. Make brainstorming sessions smarter.
Everyone has sat in a free-form brainstorming session where the ideas—usually generated by the most extroverted person in the room—were more notable for their quantity than their quality. Journalist and “Dream Teams” author Shane Snow explains that the problem arises from the unstructured nature of most brainstorming events and the power dynamics that accompany them. Snow suggests, “To maximize our chances of effective group problem-solving, we need to minimize negative social dynamics and maximize the potential for quality ideas. We have to make sure we’re tapping into our teams for more than symbolic participation.”
Keeping Snow’s thoughts in mind, take a more scientific approach to your next brainstorming session. For example, remove bias by giving attendees several ways to share their thoughts beyond just saying them out loud, and have someone moderate to keep the group focused on the observed problem. Insist that people come to the workshop with problem-solving “hypotheses” the group can explore. Finally, make sure to deliver follow-up assignments before everyone leaves the gathering. The difference between your team and other teams will surely shine a positive light on you.
2. Promote solutions and action.
There’s a huge difference between reacting and acting. By concentrating on identifying solutions to defined problems, work groups can rapidly accelerate their innovative thinking toward targeted answers. “Solution- and action-oriented thinking is more effective because it demonstrates the ability to care about things beyond just a job description and the initiative to make teamwork a priority,” notes Munjal Shah, co-founder and CEO of Health IQ, a life insurance company that rewards healthy habits. Prioritizing big-picture solutions is a sure way to take you out of your silo.
You don’t have to be in charge of a team to promote companywide solutions created by team-think. At consulting firm Accenture, the company offers an engaging virtual ideas platform where all workers can submit, discuss, and vote on new ideas. Employees contribute possible solutions to specific issues, and the group votes to move the best ideas forward. The most innovative solutions eventually rise to the surface to be implemented by company leaders. At this point, the organization has amassed tens of thousands of new actionable ideas. Try presenting this type of virtual brainstorming to your supervisors. Even a designated ideas Slack channel could serve this function with no huge investment needed.
3. Look toward the long term, too.
Keep in mind that some of your proposed solutions might be more important in the long term than the short term—and that’s OK. Many brainstorming sessions get stuck on the here and now, which leaves less room for truly pioneering ideas. Instead of feeling the constraints of the clock, embrace a long-term mindset. Consider the example set by Bell Labs, the industrial research organization whose scientists were responsible for 20th-century innovations like the fax machine, the solar battery cell, and the early communications satellite. Bell Labs believed in a more future-forward, ambitious approach to innovating through collaboration. Bell Labs’ workers saw their job as foretelling the future, not merely solving current issues. As a result, staffers weren’t confined by short-term revenue demands, allowing them to freely propose revolutionary suggestions—and the results have made history.
Your organization might stoke far-reaching positive outcomes that could impact the world, start a movement, or revitalize flagging industries. As you engage your teammates in collective innovation, remind them that they don’t need to construct invisible barriers. Join them in pushing against perceived boundaries so you can all move toward cutting-edge solutions.
If you’re committed to expanding your career, focus on more than just your individual contributions. Present yourself to your company’s leadership as a problem-solving collaborator who inspires innovation.