How Leaders Can Foster an Innovative Climate

by John Brooker

To innovate in an organisation requires people to collaborate and think, logically and creatively. To enable this, you need to use a structured approach and tools to innovate, plus you need to foster an innovative climate.

I consider that there are two types of innovative climate. One is the microclimate that you create in a workshop situation. The other is the macroclimate that you develop in the organisation.

Recently, we worked with the leadership team in a commercial organisation to develop innovative propositions, using our Inn8®  Workshop Programme. As part of the first workshop, we used many of the “action dimensions” below to develop a microclimate for people to innovate in.

Having experienced this microclimate as a team, we asked them to use the Action Dimensions Table (see below) to assess the macro climate in their departments. So enthused were they by this simple assessment, the managers took it upon themselves to carry out assessments with their teams after the workshop. They each chose three dimensions to address to begin enhancing their macro climate.

To understand more about climate and how to rate this, read on.

About Climate

Goran Ekvall carried out a well-known study (Google, “Goran Ekvall study reference” for a range of articles) on organisational climate for creativity. He identified dimensions on which to measure creative or non-creative climates in organisations and other researchers have extended and amended his original dimensions. James L. Adams also identified blockages to creativity in his book, “Conceptual Blockbusting”. Later studies on climate use different words but identify much the same concepts.

In the Table below, I have amalgamated the ideas of different researchers in my own words and turned them into key actions and guidelines that you can adopt to build the climate. If you work in a large organisation, you may not be able to influence directly the climate in the whole workplace, but you can influence the climate for your team.

How to rate your functional area

To rate your functional area, complete these instructions on the chart below:

If you would like to download a PDF of this article, including the tables, please click here

  1. For “Create Flow”, consider key initiatives you have in place already that provide energy in your area of responsibility. Record these in column two.
  2. Next, use column three to rate how much energy these initiatives create currently between “1” and “10”, where “10” is high. The higher the rating, the more energy. E.g., under “Create Flow”, you rate the energy “7” because you run good induction training.
  3. Repeat instructions 1 and 2 for all Action Dimensions.
  4. Next, in column five, rate the optimum energy for your team on each Action Dimension, e.g. you may decide that “6” is the optimum for “Make the Workplace Dynamic” because that is an acceptable level of dynamism for the type of work. (Your colleagues might not agree!)
  5. Next, if your rating in column two is less than the rating in column five, record in column four what action you might take to move the energy one point up the scale towards this optimum point.
  6. Finally, compare your chart with your colleagues. Don’t try to average the ratings. What is important is to discuss significant differences. Record the  ratings on a spreadsheet to compare at a later date.

Some of you might wish to rate your organisation as a whole. This is easy to do but you have to question the usefulness of the outcome, as the culture in each area is likely to vary and there may be a good reason for this. E.g. will the energy for innovation be the same in Finance and Marketing and does it need to be?

How Much Energy?

How much energy should you apply in each dimension? Consider that if you are seeking radical innovation, you might need to apply greater energy on each dimension. If you are seeking more incremental or adaptive innovation, you might apply less energy. However, before you wind up the energy to ten on each dimension, consider:

  • How will the people on your team react to this? Those people more inclined to adaptive change might find “10” an uncomfortable place to be on some dimensions
  • Is it appropriate to have the same energy level in each area of an organisation?

Work with Your Team

Use this Action Dimensions tool with your team, but first, let them experience an innovative climate in a meeting, as described in the first paragraphs. To find out how to do that, please download our full article here.

Once they have rated, rather than try to tackle all the dimensions at once, let your team choose one action dimension and work to increase the energy on  that. Ensure you make some progress before you work on the next dimension. In this way you can begin to adjust the innovative climate, one step at a time.

What are your favourite metaphors around innovating? Consider some this week.

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John Brooker is a former SVP and innovator at Visa and is now the MD of Yes! And. Think Innovatively network. He developed his Inn8® Approach to help teams maximise opportunities innovatively. You can hear clients discuss these approaches at www.yesand.eu. John is an Open University MBA and tutored the Creativity, Innovation and Change course for 14 years. He is author of Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate. Contact: +44 20 8869 9990 or hi@yesand.co.uk