There’s a reason the old idiom “two heads are better than one” is still tossed about so often – when we work together, we come up with better, more innovative, and outright unexpected solutions than we ever could have alone. Capturing this spirit of collaboration in the workplace is vital for running a dynamic and productive company, so you should encourage your team to share their ideas as much as possible.
However, in a modern digital team, it’s not as simple as putting people in a room and letting them get on with it. You need well-thought-out procedures, effective tools, and an environment that supports participation in the collaborative process.
Below, we’ve put together 10 ways to encourage idea sharing in the workplace today, whether you’re operating in-office, remote, or hybrid teams.
1. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
The starting point for productive idea sharing is creating an atmosphere where your team feels comfortable. Nobody will share their ideas if they think they’ll be shown up or embarrassed for doing so. You need to inspire open and honest communication in your team to create an environment where people want to share ideas. This means committing to transparency, providing support to team members, and really listening when people share.
That last point – listening – may seem simple enough, but active listening is a skill that must be practiced like anything else.
To make sure you’re listening properly, try to:
Face the person sharing their ideas and maintain eye contact
Don’t interrupt or talk over somebody who is sharing
Don’t start thinking about what you’ll say next (we all do it, so make an effort not to!)
Ask questions to stay engaged and show you’re listening
Show that you are focused on what they say (don’t check your phone!)
2. Facilitate Idea Generation and Sharing
The right environment provides the foundation of good knowledge sharing, but you need to take an active approach to get ideas flying. When crafting your team schedule, include blocks of time dedicated to idea sharing. Treat them like you would an important meeting –set aside the time, space, and resources you need to make it productive and don’t cancel at the last minute; this will only devalue the usefulness of sharing ideas in the eyes of your team.
Within these dedicated idea-sharing sessions, use creative thinking techniques to facilitate the process, such as:
The rapid generation of ideas in a short period of time without much organization at the moment.
A graphical representation of the ideas, concepts, and solutions that a team comes up with during an idea-sharing session.
Gathering ideas and solutions from your team based on user needs and customer feedback.
Many of the most popular creative ideas sharing techniques have been used for decades, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective in the modern workplace. Utilize tools such as digital whiteboards for your collaborative mind mapping or face-to-face video conferencing for design thinking sessions.
3. Encourage a Culture of Continuous Learning
As part of your program of constructive idea sharing, your team should be encouraged – and provided with the support for – ongoing learning and growth. This includes access to professional development and training opportunities as well as creating a culture in which team members are encouraged to reach beyond what they currently know or are comfortable with.
In order for a culture of learning to really take root, your team needs a certain level of curiosity. Fortunately, this is something that most people have by the bucketful, to the point that some scientists see it as “innate in all humans — a sensation much like hunger or thirst.” Your role at work is to direct that innate curiosity into productive innovation by offering your team the time, space, and resources they need to thrive.
4. Celebrate and Reward Idea Sharing
Everyone likes to be acknowledged and rewarded, which should be a key part of any idea-sharing plan in the workplace. This doesn’t mean rewarding good ideas; it means praising the actual act of sharing, whether or not the idea is feasible. How you recognize team members who generate innovative ideas will depend on your company and your team, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes simply praising them in a group call or sending a private message to say thanks is enough.
Most importantly, you should ensure that it’s not just you, or management more generally, celebrating team members who share ideas. Create a culture among all employees so peers recognize and applaud each other’s contributions.
5. Embrace Diversity and Inclusion
Sometimes teams can fall into a single-track way of thinking, especially if they’ve been working together for a while. Having everyone come up with the same ideas doesn’t help innovation or progress, so encourage new opinions and perspectives. With a little reassurance, you’ll surely get plenty of fresh ideas.
Another aspect of encouraging diversity of thought is embracing cultural and individual differences. When you open up your idea-sharing process to people’s varying experiences and views, you’ll end up with a richer and more comprehensive set of outcomes.
6. Provide Resources and Tools
Having access to high-quality information, resources, and tools is essential for good ideas sharing in your team. This should include external resources, such as market research and industry trends, as well as internal data, such as customer feedback.
Additionally, your team needs the practical tools to share their ideas.
We mentioned a couple of important channels earlier, but any modern team should have access to:
A digital whiteboard – This is an online collaborative space where team members can add ideas either simultaneously or asynchronously.
A team chat app – Business instant messages are an integral part of internal and external communication and allow for ideas to be shared instantly between team members and groups.
Voice and video calls – Some ideas, especially complex ones, are best shared this way to allow for explanation and feedback.
In addition to the tools for idea sharing, you also need a structure and budget to move those ideas forward. Make sure that you set aside funding to implement team suggestions so they don’t feel like sharing is inconsequential. In terms of the tools for implementation, you should have a robust project management system that allows you to create, assign and track tasks and to-do lists for new ideas.
7. Encourage Collaborative Decision-Making
The best collaborative idea sharing doesn’t stop with the idea – your whole team should carry it forward as part of the decision-making process. This means including your team in each step, from ideation to implementation to KPIs and reflections. This requires a high level of cohesion within your team, with special attention to consensus-building and compromise.
Of course, with shared input comes shared responsibility, and your company and team should also foster a culture of accountability. This doesn’t mean that an individual should be blamed for an idea not working; it means that if something doesn’t go well, everyone should feel the need to address, analyze and brainstorm solutions.
8. Encourage Personal Ownership of Ideas
In the same way your team should be accountable as a group, you should also encourage team members to take ownership of their individual ideas. This doesn’t mean blocking other people’s input and support but instead encouraging individuals to stand firm behind their suggestions and solutions.
This is especially important when the idea does not impact the whole team or company since each individual should feel empowered to carry ideas forward within the scope of their own work. Management can help by offering support and mentorship as needed –through formal programs and less formal knowledge sharing.
9. Foster a Culture of Feedback and Improvement
Ideas shared without feedback limit the value an individual and a team can take from them. It stunts a person’s professional growth by removing an opportunity to learn from their successes and failures. As well as providing feedback yourself, you should also encourage open and honest feedback on ideas and implementation from the entire team.
Part of this needs to include providing team members with the time and space to reflect so they can take learnings from feedback and use it as part of their ongoing professional development. This time also allows your team members to reflect and give feedback on their own work, which can be equally as valuable for creative ideas sharing.
Don’t let feedback languish in email accounts and chat threads; actively implement it into your projects and processes. This actually draws value from it as well as shows your team that engaging in honest feedback is taken seriously.
10. Foster Cross-Functional Collaboration
Idea sharing shouldn’t stop at the edge of your team! Encourage everyone to collaborate, communicate and cooperate with different departments and teams across your company. This starts with taking a collaborative leadership approach and should echo throughout your entire organization.
Many of the previous nine steps are just as applicable to inter-team ideas sharing as they are to smaller groups, so don’t be afraid to try them. In doing so, you’ll be able to bring in fresh perspectives, generating more ideas than you ever could as an isolated team.
It’s Time to Start Sharing
Productive idea sharing is at the heart of any innovative company, and with these ten ways to encourage it in your team (and beyond!), you’re sure to see the benefits of fostering this collaboration. Remember to start with a safe environment where people want to share before making more practical steps to facilitate idea generation and offering the tools to do so. Embrace the range of voices in your organization and celebrate them when they step forward. You and your team should always be reflecting, offering feedback, and in a state of learning, and if you can, try to spread these same values beyond the walls of your team.
With the ten ideas we’ve shared above, you can take your team collaboration to the next level. Set aside some time, make a plan, and make ideas sharing a fundamental part of your organization.
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