How can you help your team be more innovative? Get them to collaborate. Discover 5 ways to create a workplace that fosters teamwork and growth.
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When you turn on the lights in your house every evening, you can thank Thomas Edison for bringing light to your life. But you should also credit other pioneering inventors, like Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, and Joseph Swan. Their prior contributions and discoveries helped Edison develop and patent his most famous invention in 1879—the first practical incandescent light bulb.1
While he tends to get all the credit for this breakthrough, Edison was by no means egocentric. He was actually quite the team player and recognized the importance and value of collaboration, saying, “When you honor me, you are also honoring the vast army of workers but for whom my work would have gone for nothing”.2
Edison’s approach to collaboration and innovation paid off: He obtained a record 1,093 US patents in his lifetime, founded the world’s first industrial research laboratory, and became one of the most influential inventors of his era.
While you may not set out to invent the light bulb, innovation in your company shouldn’t be something that only happens on retreats, or in brainstorming meetings. And it shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of your product, strategy, or leadership teams.
That’s why you need to be intentional about democratizing innovation. How? By creating a culture of collaboration and an environment where new ideas are celebrated.
In this post, we’ll shed light on how teamwork leads to greater innovation and give you tips to promote creative and collaborative thinking in your organization.
More innovation, fewer silos
Switchboard’s collaborative digital workspace helps your team connect and collaborate with interactive persistent rooms that save your work.
How collaboration leads to greater innovation
Edison’s ability to collaborate and his appreciation of teamwork helped him create multi-billion dollar industries that still exist today (ever heard of General Electric?). When you get your people to put their heads together on your team, you can also achieve more innovation and better results.
Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work,” recognizing that innovation always comes with challenges. Collaboration can help you overcome these, however.
Collaborative efforts lead to innovative ideas, as Gartner research proves: Knowledge workers who are intentional about how they work together are three times more likely to achieve high levels of innovation in their teams than those who don’t.
Seventy-nine percent of workers at collaborative organizations also feel well-prepared to tackle obstacles; four times more than employees at organizations where teamwork is less common. That’s because when employees come together and brainstorm, they combine their unique perspectives, approaches, and experiences, leading to better problem solving and more creativity.
Teamwork drives successful innovation, but it also has a positive impact on business results. In the past three years, organizations with high levels of teamwork reported almost double the amount of revenue growth compared to less collaborative workplaces, proving that collaboration helps a business grow.
A big part of this ties back to the sense of ownership and purpose that joint working fosters in employees. According to the same study, ninety-two percent of workers at collaborative businesses feel their work has value, compared to just half of employees at organizations with lower levels of teamwork.
“Group collaboration can bring in new ideas, perspectives, and approaches to solving problems. It allows the team to build upon one another to create an end result better than the sum of its parts.”
-Alex Melone and Andrei Marin, co-founders of Code Crew
To bring your team together–and enjoy the business benefits–you need to know how to promote collaborative innovation. Here’s how.
5 key ways to promote innovation & collaboration
According to Sarah Miller Caldicott, Edison’s grandniece and author of a book on how he ran his companies, the inventor’s approach to teamwork consisted of four phases: Capacity, context, coherence, and complexity.2 This framework allowed him to foster collaboration and creativity in his businesses and produce countless successful inventions.
We have our own five steps process to help you drive innovation by getting everyone on your team to work together cohesively. Let’s take a look:
1. Make innovation part of everyone’s job
A few years after Edison patented the incandescent light bulb, a scientist named Lewis H. Latimer started working for him. Latimer went on to design modern carbon filaments, which revolutionized the light bulb by making it more practical and affordable.3
As this shows, the innovation process shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of certain employees or experts. If you want a team that thrives together and comes up with unique ideas and initiatives, you need to democratize innovation.
Create opportunities for your team members to share and contribute their ideas—ask all team members, from entry-level employees to high-level management, for their opinions on high-level issues, and encourage collaboration across different departments. Not only will you get to make the most of everyone’s unique skill sets and knowledge, but your people will also have a greater sense of ownership over their work.
For example, if your team is facing productivity issues, consult with staff at all levels to ask how they think they could be more efficient in their jobs and where they think other parts of the company can improve. By doing this instead of implementing top-down initiatives, you get unique perspectives from all stakeholders, from new employees to team managers, and can find innovative ways to ramp up productivity.
“Teams are more invested in the outcome when they have a voice,” says Ashley Russo, Founder and President of ASR Media Productions. “Everyone remains much more solution-focused because they understand that the entire team is looking for the best outcomes by collaborating.”
Additionally, make it clear that innovation doesn’t have to happen at specific times. Breakthroughs can happen in a daily standup, brainstorming call, 1:1 meeting, or even coffee chat, so encourage your employees to share their ideas at any time. When you create a culture of innovation that includes everyone in the process, you open your organization up to unique perspectives, ideas, and opportunities and can reap the benefits of collaborative projects.
2. Share “how the sausage is made”
If your people are in the dark about how things work at your organization, they’re less likely to contribute ideas and solutions. This means you need to keep everyone in the loop on your processes, from your summer intern to your upper-level managers.
Sharing the final results isn’t enough to make everyone on your team feel invested, which is why your workflows and standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be transparent and available to everyone. Rather than treating SOPs as gospel, allow your team to make suggestions about how existing procedures should be modified or what new SOPs should be created.
By letting everyone in on your workflows, your team gets a clear understanding of what goes into every step of your processes so they have a better idea of where they can provide their own unique expertise and value.
Pro tip: Save your SOPs in a place everyone can easily access, like a Switchboard room. That way, everyone knows exactly where to go when they’re unsure about a process or best practice.
3. Build an inclusive company culture
You can’t foster open innovation on your team if your employees don’t feel included, respected, and heard. That’s why your company culture is the key to encouraging your people to work together.
Your culture starts with your values, so establish and promote a set of team collaboration principles that encourage open communication and respect. Some examples of values for collaborative teams include:
- Ownership and accountability
- Low-ego mindset
- Honesty and integrity
Even more importantly, show your employees that you believe in them and value their input. Ashley Russo says, "When teams feel their ideas are truly heard and considered, a culture of collaboration happens. This safe space is instrumental in coming up with innovations, new ideas, and improved processes."
To create that safe space, you need to foster psychological safety on your team. In a truly collaborative culture, there’s no such thing as a bad idea, so ensure everyone’s input is treated with equal respect.
For example, if a new employee has an idea for a new feature that wouldn’t interest your ICP, don’t shut them down on the spot. Instead, educate them on why your customers probably wouldn’t use the feature they suggested and explore alternatives together. This will put them in a better position to contribute viable ideas in the future—and make them feel valued and safe to do so.
That’s not to say there’ll never be disagreements, but the key is how you approach them. On an open-minded, inclusive team, clashes aren’t seen as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to listen to other perspectives and learn from them.
“Being open-minded and listening were the key factors that helped us find success through collaboration. This did not happen overnight and required consistent reliable actions and behaviors to move the needle.” Ashley Russo, Founder and President of ASR Media Productions
4. Help your people connect
You can’t expect your employees to work together if they hardly know each other, so create opportunities for them to connect in both professional and more relaxed settings. In the workplace, that means eliminating silos, improving cross-team collaboration, and creating opportunities for spontaneous interactions that help build teams.
Use Switchboard to run a brainstorming meeting about creating a new feature for your product and invite various teams to join in on the conversation. This can include anyone from UX and business development to sales and design. In the interactive room, participants can share their contributions directly on the platform’s digital whiteboard, in sticky notes, or by answering a poll. This ensures everyone’s ideas are heard and considered.
Creating an interconnected ecosystem in your organization also gives employees an insight into what happens on other teams, allowing them to participate in conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to be part of.
However, no matter how well you get your employees to work together on new products and business ideas, their ability to collaborate will be limited if they don’t feel they know each other on a personal level. When your people have meaningful relationships with their coworkers, they’re better equipped to empathize with each other and work together towards a common goal.
Foster opportunities for your employees to get to know each other in a casual setting, whether it’s weekly coffee chats or monthly team game hours. While these activities should be optional, they encourage your employees to connect in a more relaxed environment.
Pro tip: Create a designated, persistent games room in Switchboard so your employees always have a place to meet, connect, and kick back for a quick game of Scattergories, water cooler chats, or fun trivia nights.
5. Create the right environment
Edison popularized commercial research and design labs with his invention factory in West Orange, New Jersey. Along with the lightbulb, it would prove one of his greatest contributions to the world. Creating the right environment is essential for innovative teams, which is why you need to design a workplace that supports your collaboration process.
For companies that meet in person, that means setting up a space that allows for different working styles. That could be a combination of:
- Benches and couches for 1:1s and spontaneous chats
- Desk groups where everyone is facing each other to facilitate brainstorming
- Circular tables for team huddles
- Soundproofed pods and booths for when team members need to do focused work
For remote or hybrid teams, create an environment that makes it easy for your employees to spontaneously meet and share ideas. Use online meeting software and visual collaboration tools that encourage creative brainstorming, allow everyone to contribute on calls, and save your work, making it easy for anyone to jump in and track progress both in real time and async.
For example, Switchboard is a collaborative digital workspace that lets you and your team work together on documents, files, and browser-based apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen. It’s designed to foster team connection and productivity through intuitive rooms that let you use a variety of collaboration tools to organize by project, not by tool or team.
Switchboard lets you interact in real time with video, audio, chat, polls, and emoji reactions. You can also work side-by-side, allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time. This makes it easier for team members to collaborate whether they’re sitting next to each other or miles apart.
Throughout the meeting or work session, you can explore any file in the room, moving around and viewing whatever you want without getting in the way of others. And Switchboard saves all your files after every session, so you never need to download anything or repopulate the room again. That means you always know where to find the information you need for a specific project, even between meetings, and no one is out of the loop.
Innovation and collaboration: Your lightbulb moment
The lightbulb is widely attributed to Edison, but his famous incandescent bulb was actually an iteration and improvement upon the many versions from inventors before him.
Few great inventions are really created by one person, and innovation doesn’t happen in teams that don’t work well together. To make the most of your team member’s combined skills, perspectives, and experience, you need to democratize innovation in your organization, foster a culture of collaboration, celebrate new ideas and unique viewpoints, and build cohesive teams by helping your people connect with each other.
You can do a lot of this by using a collaborative digital workspace like Switchboard that lets them effectively communicate and work together in real time or async. Its interactive, multiplayer experience goes beyond one-sided screen sharing, so everyone can share ideas and opinions and make progress, rather than letting one person dominate the conversation. And that leads to more creative thinking and innovation—and better results.
More innovation, fewer silos
Switchboard’s collaborative digital workspace helps your team connect and collaborate with interactive persistent rooms.
Frequently asked questions about collaboration and innovation
1. Why are innovation and collaboration important?
Innovation and collaboration are important because they:
- Drive progress and foster the development of new technologies and solutions
- Boost creative problem-solving by combining different perspectives
- Improve adaptability and competitiveness
- Allow for continuous learning and growth
- Create a sense of collective ownership and responsibility
2. What are the benefits of collaboration for innovation?
Some of the benefits of collaboration for innovation include better problem-solving, increased creativity, and improved decision-making. Plus, when your employees work together, they are more productive and flexible, and can build stronger relationships with each other.