6 Elements for a More Innovative Environment

As a modern leader, you’ve banished control from your toolkit, so what are you left with? Your new job is to replace it with an environment that promotes innovation. A place that allows your teams to navigate a clear path toward a meaningful goal.

Tom Howlett
Feb 16, 2020 · 3 min read
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Get it right and your teams will flourish. They’ll find flow: experimenting, failing, learning, discovering, making a breakthrough and releasing. Surfing the edge of chaos in a complex sea.

An innovative environment is built on 6 foundational elements. A place where people can be collaborative, responsible, experimental, value-focused, autonomous and transparent.


Creativity comes from the interplay of diverse viewpoints challenging and iterating with a focus on a common goal. Make the goal shared and meaningful, the rules clear and fair and wrap them with a physical space where people can come together.


People take responsibility when you let go of control. When you ask people to solve a pressing problem, your teams’ work becomes more meaningful and can take on a healthy intensity. Work together to set a shared goal with the team and let them decide how they want to achieve it.


Innovation is a learning process. For every breakthrough discovery, there will be many failures. When you get excited about a new idea, convinced it will change the world, odds are you’re wrong. Products built on assumptions crumble. Learning to fail fast means working in an environment where it’s ok to be wrong as long as you test cheaply. Help your teams to learn a myriad of lean ways to test their idea. Make testing first normal.


Building the right thing trumps building the wrong thing righter. Teams rarely know their customer problem enough to appreciate what they truly value. Create an environment where the customer is always front of mind. Tell stories, organise visits, bring the customer into the team. Stick personas on the wall and learn to love them.


You’ve released control. Your teams have taken responsibility, but do they have true autonomy? Do they feel constrained by team boundaries? Are there processes or policies that quash their creative spark? Constraints may be cultural or hierarchical. Your job is to remove any that stand in your teams’ ways


Autonomy without transparency creates a rabbit warren of missed opportunities. So many ideas that should never make it past the “I’ve just had an amazing idea..” create unnecessary work when somebody else has already tried and failed. Create an environment where activity is visible to everyone. Promote it on whiteboards, hide it in wikis, announce it in standups, sit people together.

These 6 elements of an innovative environment come with a health warning. Continual collaboration and transparency can be distracting. Some thrive on this, others need more space or support. Create options. Create quiet corners reserved for deep concentration. Respect and embrace your teams’ diversity.

Your environment will help your teams form a community. A community with shared understanding and a common goal. A community where diversity and creativity can thrive.

If you’d like help creating an innovative environment ask me about the LeanTomato Innovation Leadership Programme


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