Creative destruction continues to reduce the lifespan of S&P 500 organizations around the world. One of the key insights from Innosight’s 2018 Corporate Longevity Briefing is that half of S&P 500 companies will be replaced over the next ten years. The disappearance of these once monolithic companies won’t be because of something they did, but because of something they failed to do. Turbulence is the name of the game, and persistent innovation is the ingredient that will separate those who steer the future from those being surpassed by it.
So how do you maximize your team’s innovation potential? How do you future proof yourself to outlive the competition?
At Luffa, we found that the first thing you want to do is kill formality.
Letting go of formality
Formality is the jargon of team interactions. It’s a set of established rules and behaviours that curtail people’s actions. Most workplace formality is a holdover from decades ago when certain types of workflows were expected, and most of it no longer has a helpful role in a modern business. Be these organizations who have poorly adopted Agile techniques, or those clinging to Waterfall methodologies.
While these systems had their time and place in bringing about reliable teams, “business as usual” is no longer enough to compete.
If you want your teams to have a better chance to change and experiment with new ideas we recommend doing away with these old systems, let go of the barriers and let ideas flow.
It diminishes trust when we spot fake behaviour, it reduces the chance for knowledge to be shared when numerous steps or barriers are in the way. By removing formal processes your team will be more fluid, make better use of resources, and move forward faster.
But being informal doesn’t imply working in total chaos. You need systems, and it’s important to embrace constraints — but remember to let chaos in when the time is right and to take down the barriers that are slowing you down.
“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” — Mary Shelly
As a team, we must take an honest look at the systems we put in place and spot artificial boundaries that manifest in structures and processes. If you see handoffs, if you’re picturing the flow as boxes and arrows, it’s time to act. When a project or idea switches hands it loses the context and understanding it previously had. The new team picking it up needs to spend time getting caught up and it’s during this switch off that a project can lose its unique ideas and stamina. Get rid of such boundaries: they are slowing you down. And worse, they are forcing you to miss out on your best ideas.
Let your team find their own (informal) way
No two teams are created equal. Every person brings their unique perspective to a team, their history and experiences. Constricting systems rarely let unique backgrounds shine. They were built with typical personas in mind. It’s important to create an environment where all kinds are given a chance to feel comfortable.
Consider removing formal processes until things start to break — then figure out why they do, and put back just enough process to continue.
For example: try killing all recurring team meetings. At Luffa, we no longer run daily stand-ups within the product team. If this leads to people no longer talking to each other, introduce recurring check-ins, maintain a continuous conversation instead of one with daily time constraints. Our working space is designed to foster exchanges; we work out loud and capture it all. Everyone in the organization knows what we are working on, what we will work on next, and most importantly, everyone understands why. As a result, the organization reacts better and faster to changes in customers’ behaviours.
“The next ‘big thing’ is not a thing. It is a change in the relationship amongst the things.” — Bill Buxton
Can’t do without recurring meetings? Consider cutting down on the updates, and leave more room for a focused, informal conversation. Keep everyone informed with continuous communication outside of the meeting room then use scheduled time to really delve into areas that benefit most from cooperation, instead of just sharing static updates. Celebrate the unique expertise that everyone brings to the table by giving people the space to try new things and make mistakes together.
It’s up to your team to find their way. At the end of the day, you must create something amazing, put it in the hands of users, and learn from it. In a world where constant change is the norm, the best teams focus on the customer and adjust when they see change on the horizon. They don’t want to spend time focused on processes. So aim for true agility instead of subscribing to prescriptive ways.
With a skilled and diverse team, you will gather different perspectives, experiences, and ways of thinking. At Luffa, this has been a recipe for successful exploration and experimentation.
Informality at scale
Informality in workplaces is often associated with startups and innovation labs. Smaller teams who have fewer people who need to be kept in the loop or managed. So does it have a place in larger organization and companies?
Generating a large number of ideas is necessary to innovate. You need to be constantly formulating new ideas, dissecting them, and choosing the best parts to keep and decide what parts to ignore. Treating ideas systematically and at scale is, in fact, an emerging trend; one that tempts many organizations. So the larger the group of people participating in generating ideas, the better. Imagine an open ideation system that spews out a stream of innovations; who would say “no” to that?
The catch is that ideas are raw material. Innovation is a craft. A discipline of recognition and manipulation of ideas. You need to find the best ideas, and combine them in new and creative ways. Furthermore, ideation management systems demand scale: they require lots of ideas, very frequently, and from a multitude of participants. When larger organizations want to create this system they often build a formal process, but most times this leads to people in teams with the mandate to innovate. But as others have noticed, innovation doesn’t have to come from the top and innovation will die if given to a single team.
As soon as there is a mandate to innovate, you’ve created formality on the process. As formality increases, the chances of participation diminish. A team tasked with coming up with The Next Big Thing will become a silo, sharing only their ideas amongst their one team. Unable to take advantage of the idea generating machine that they have right outside their office door.
“In chaos, there is fertility.” — Anaïs Nin
Without trust and open exchanges, teams retreat to what they can control and conversations become shallow, bringing knowledge exchanges and idea flows to a halt. When meetings happen they become places of knowledge re-cap instead of an exercise in the iteration of ideation where everyone in the room has something to offer.
Just like corporations are giving space to platforms, formality at work is being replaced with a series of interactions that are open, skills-based, and optimized with software. By automating the capture and analysis of these conversations where ideas are being generated, we are getting closer to a “fully-automated innovation management system”. But such a platform would still require diverse insights, ideas and perspectives as input. So embrace informality and remove the barriers that are slowing you down! Stop running meetings and start having a conversation. It will help you scale your innovation efforts.
What’s your team’s way?
There is no cheat sheet for this, no set of tricks that you can start implementing across organizations and instantly see an increase in innovation. You need to sit down and identify what is stopping you and your team, and then take meaningful action. Killing formality worked for us, we tore down physical and figurative boundaries. What works for you?