As part of preparing an innovation workshop with a group of engineers, I was a bit concerned that we’d never get past the analysis stage, to get to the innovation stage. That might sound a bit weird because logically, analysis should come after brainstorming. However, attempts at innovation regularly fall flat in organisations, because someone throws out an idea and someone else immediately starts critiquing why it won’t work. A couple of rounds of this, analysis has trumped innovation and everyone walks away, frustrated and down 2 hours.
If this sounds familiar, there could be a very simple reason this dynamic is happening and a couple of very simple solutions. One element of my work is to work with in-tact teams and help them become more effective. I regularly use team role theory (free online test available https://www.123test.com/team-roles-test/ ), which suggests that there are 9 different team roles that need to be accessed, to maximise a team’s effectiveness. (That’s not to say the ideal team number is 9. Most of us can comfortably access 2-3 team roles.)
While I’ve seen all sorts of interesting team dynamics arise, in relation to Innovation, a very clear conflict regularly surfaces. One element of a successful team is the ability to generate ideas while another element is the ability to critique those ideas. In my experience, these roles regularly don’t sit in the one person i.e., one team member is comfortable in the role of idea generation while another person prefers critiquing.
In today’s world of needing to do more with less, teams innocently and sincerely meet to generate some ideas and move problems, challenges, projects and strategies forward However, without an understanding of the concept of team roles or their own team role preferences, the dynamic that surfaces is as outlined above – suggested ideas quickly and continuously knocked back. If this sounds familiar, two very easy solutions can be implemented very quickly.
Option 1 – Set Ground Rules
The first option is to explain, at the beginning of the session, that:
- the purpose of the session is idea generation only
- critiquing of ideas will happen at a later stage
- the meeting chair or facilitator reserves the right to highlight instances of analysis and cut them short
Option 2 – Understand Team Roles
The second option is to have all team members complete a team role preference assessment, identify the ideas generators and the analysts and explain the natural conflict. Together, agree the best way to manage this conflict. It could be that during innovation/brain storming sessions, analysts will attend as observers (for the most part) or won’t attend at all. Vice versa, during evaluation and critiquing of fleshed-out ideas, innovators may agree to attend as observers or not at all.
You may be wondering why I’ve included the point about whether or not innovators should participate in critiquing, but believe me, there is a reason, depending on the degree to which the innovator likes to innovate. Some are happy to suggest a few ideas and then move on. Others are constantly diverging and coming up with ideas upon ideas upon ideas. In most businesses, there comes a time when a decision has to be made and implemented. It can be very off-putting for the rest of the team if someone is constantly suggesting alternatives to the decision made, creating its own unhelpful dynamic of TOO much innovation.
Knowing all this, what did I do with the engineers? I put the above image of No Devil’s Advocates Allowed on the front of the door to the workshop room. During the introduction, I explained that we were in idea generation mode and that anyone caught critiquing would have to pay a one euro fine into the fines jar. They came up with some great potential business ideas and I left with an empty jar!