5 Ways Your Team Can Have Better Ideas
By Sarah Hutchinson, Product Designer at Mindiply.
Given the right circumstances, everyone in your company can contribute ideas to help you sell more, have happier workers and be more innovative and diverse. That intern you hired for three months has ideas about your company and suggestions to make it better. The same group that leads an uninspiring quarter of sales might have ideas that will successfully guide your company for the next five years.
There are two reasons you’re not getting the ideas you need from within your company.
a) They don’t know the answer: they need a way to find it.
b) They know the answer: they need a way to say it.
These five key strategies will help you cultivate and gather the collective wisdom of your company:
1. Make sure everyone understands the problem
There are two benefits of doing this. Firstly, if you can communicate the problem clearly to your team you will ensure everyone is solving the rightproblem. Secondly, by defining it, you actually help solve it. The best way to do this is to spend some time forming a really great problem statement.
Here are five steps to turn a typical company aim, e.g. ‘increase sales’, into a great problem statement:
1. Make it into a question:
e.g. ‘How can we increase sales?’
2. Make it specific:
e.g. ‘How can we increase sales with social media?’
3. Introduce a time limit:
e.g. ‘How can we increase sales with social media in three months?’
4. Have a clear target:
‘How can we increase sales with social media by 10% in three months?’
5. If necessary, make multiple questions:
‘How can we increase sales with our window display by 10% in three months?’, ‘How can we increase sales with business partnerships by 10% in three months?’
Focus: remote work
This issue is particularly relevant for remote work. If you’re solving a problem with a less close-knit group of people it becomes completely vital to define the problem question clearly and communicate the context. You don’t want people to come back with vague suggestions that you change your product line or target audience if you simply wanted some new social media strategies, or vice versa.
You can do some of this naturally if you’re solving the problem with a group of people you work closely with, often in the same office. You might not explicitly say that you need to achieve your sales target in three months, but if everyone is aware there is a quarterly review where the sales team will need to show progress, it’s likely that people will think on that level.
2. Allow people to think of ideas individually
So, you have an amazing problem statement. Now you need to give people the best the best conditions to solve it in. Studies strongly show that you will get the best ideas if people think of ideas individually first, and then share them with others.
Why? Giving people the problem to solve individually helps them to feel personally responsible for the outcome so they will try harder. Also, if you hear other people’s ideas, you unconsciously tailor your own ideas to them and you lose originality. Suddenly you’re thinking of lots of variations on a theme rather than searching far and wide for a novel solution.
So, if you want the best for your team, hang back on booking that conference room! Give people time to think for themselves and then build upon that base with a traditional meeting.
3. Let people contribute ideas anonymously
A key extra step, to make sure you’re really choosing the best idea when you evaluate them, is to make all the ideas anonymous.
Anonymity is important because people don’t need to worry about being judged so they can contribute their slightly crazy (and maybe brilliant) ideas, and you eliminate the office politics. The social hierarchies at work and our personal feelings about co-workers don’t help us find the best idea.
Making ideas anonymous is easiest in the digital realm: for example, having everyone add to a .txt document, or getting everyone to type up and print their ideas in an agreed-upon format, so you can remove all personal traces. We use Neonce, a specifically designed software where you can input ideas and share them anonymously.
4. Build a system where people can always add ideas
Ideas come to you at the most random of times. I often have great ideas while cycling (in-between dodging articulated lorries) and make a special effort to write them down there and then. It’s actually how I thought of the tagline for our company, ‘power tools for the mind’. I was halfway to work, and probably late, but made sure I stopped and noted it down on my phone.
It’s a well documented fact that when we’re engaged in other activities we can come up with brilliant ideas. In my experience undemanding physical tasks, like walking, cycling and cleaning the house yield the best ideas. It’s also another great reasons to turn off your TV/podcast/music occasionally — our ideas can’t get out if we’re always distracted!
Within your company, you probably have a series of ongoing questions you need to answer, perhaps the direction, marketing content or sales strategy. Build a system so there is always a place for people to add ideas as they come up. We have a Trello board where we can add ideas for new product features or directions, and review them periodically. They’re not always relevant at the time, or ever, but you don’t want to lose them and be left with a nagging, “I’m sure I had a good idea for this…” three months later.
5. Have a culture of constructive feedback
A lot of these strategies focus on how to build methods and structures to eliminate the unconscious negative social behaviors that stop people from coming up with great ideas. They aim to take the social interaction out of creating ideas by providing structures that enable people to think independently.
Talking to each other will always be the most powerful and effective way to communicate, and so it’s worth having some ground rules. As Hayley Lewis, a psychologist who helps leaders achieve exceptional performance, says:
“Feedback is vital for reinforcing learning, the right team behaviours and excellent leadership — all of which impacts customer service and the bottom line. Poorly delivered feedback is as dangerous for the organisation as no feedback at all.”
Taking time to build a culture of constructive feedback will take you from having great ideas to great implementation and strategic development.