Four Essentials for Collaboration and Innovation

by | 07 March 2016

Almost every client I meet with wants more collaboration and innovation in their company. They say “we need to break down silos, be more collaborative and be innovative. To survive in our business environment we need to out-innovate the competition.”

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But how on earth do you actually create innovation or collaboration? You can’t just order people to “be more innovative” or put up some motivational posters on the wall. You need to create the circumstances that spark innovation by designing workplaces to enable collaboration and providing collaborative work settings like agile walls, huddle spaces or team areas. In many ways, creating innovation is a management issue. How do you motivate and enable the people part of the equation?

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One of the best ways to innovate is to use the collective wisdom of your people in a disruptive way. With that in mind, here are my five essentials for collaboration and innovation.

  1. Diverse and respectful teams
    When you have a goal to generate and gestate ideas for a specific problem, you need a diverse range of skills and viewpoints. You must have an understanding of each other’s strengths, and to a lesser extent, weaknesses. What can each person bring to the conversation and process? If someone doesn’t bring anything to the table, they shouldn’t be on the team. A great team lets people express their views with no grandstanding and mutual respect. Celebrating each team member’s strengths is part of making a great team.
  2. A culture of critique
    Innovation thrives on good critique. If a team has mutual respect, it means that ideas can be tested, critiqued and refined in a calm and non-confrontational way. Pushing each other to develop well thought out solutions is the key to great innovation.
  3. A funfulfilling and engaging workplace
    The best workspaces have buzz. It’s wonderful to see people creating, discussing and having passionate opinions, so the spaces where people collaborate should be central and visible. It makes people want to be part of the fun. Actively contributing to the development of a solution and having your opinion heard is inherently fulfilling and engaging.
  4. Set goals, but don’t buy into oppressive performance assessments
    This is easier said than done. Really defining the problem is the first step in any great innovation. This is where design thinking can help. Also, take note: Performance assessment based solely on individual metrics and “stack ranking” are definite innovation killers.

These four essentials are only a starting point, of course, and individual results may vary, depending upon circumstances. However, if you can implement these changes in your office, you might find yourself out-innovating the competition with your newly-collaborative team in due time.

As National Director of Workplace Strategy and Design for Colliers International in Australia, Peter is a workplace strategist and qualified architect with over 25 years’ experience in workplace and base building design, working with clients ranging from Bauer Media Group, AT Kearney, Ricoh, ANZ Bank and Citrix.