Things that nobody tells you about innovation culture (part 2)

Blog, Innovation

Looking beyond flat hierarchies, co-creation and agile ways of working to uncover the important things that nobody tells you about innovation culture.

So, we know that flat hierarchies don’t mean that decision making is a complete free-for-all, and tolerance for failure doesn’t mean that every type of failure should be accepted (see part 1), what about participation and co-creation? 

Although these are some of the most common characteristics of a truly innovative culture,  we know from experience that implementing these across teams can be a daunting task for many managers and leaders who worry about losing control of their teams. 

Let’s unpack the concerns.

Participation and co-creation require real leadership, not pointless workshopping 

Innovation culture looks like useless workshops building prototypes with lego, freshly brewed coffee on tap and lounging around on bean bags, right? 


We totally understand why managers might be concerned that innovation gives their teams the freedom to just get nothing done. After all, from the outside it looks like less hierarchy and more pointless team bonding exercises. Real work seems to be replaced by endless brainstorming sessions and meeting rooms filled with teams playing with sticky notes. Does any real work actually happen? 

Well, this really shouldn’t be the case, and in most cases, we find that this isn’t even something that teams want to engage with. In fact, I’m sure most people would prefer to keep the lego building at home with their kids. 

If it is the case, then your team has lost sight of the real objectives of co-creation and running workshops. 

The real (and most important) objective of co-creation and workshopping is centred around mobilising the expertise, experience, skills and passions of groups to enhance problem-solving and decision-making. Complex problems can’t be solved in silos. Instead, it takes diverse people with diverse experiences and skills to navigate difficult situations that actually deliver real solutions. We call this sort of solution-seeking “mobilising collective intelligence”. 

A workshop that creates a real impact should be structured in a way that allows teams to avoid the usual pitfalls that come with teamwork, such as team politics, asymmetrical knowledge and varying working styles. This usually isn’t as easy as it sounds.

So, what can you do to make sure that your participation and co-creation efforts have the potential to make a real difference? 

To unleash collective intelligence, organisations and leaders need to become skilled in mobilising all of their people in a meaningful way. Group collaboration is always challenging. Without implementing the right tools or practices, workshops can dissolve into a war based on who can speak the loudest or who is most senior. On the other hand, poorly planned workshops can also create an environment where no one wants to make a decision without a complete consensus, so by the end of the workshop, nobody feels accountable for the jobs to be done.  

The question that leaders must ask themselves is this: what processes and practices can you put in place to enhance a group’s potential to co-create in a way that actually delivers real results? 

That’s where we come in. We have prepared a free co-creation toolkit to help you get started on delivering an environment that empowers teams to work together efficiently and innovatively. Drop us a line to access the kit. 

There’s a difference between being agile and using agile ways of working 

It’s no surprise that agile and innovation go hand in hand, but that doesn’t mean that leaders are eager to swap traditional ways of working for their more innovative counterparts. For straightforward projects with predictable outcomes, traditional methodologies might still do the trick, but for organisations that aspire to be innovative, adopting agile practices will help deliver more successful innovations, faster.  

If that’s the case, why are so many leaders reluctant to change their ways of working?

This usually boils down to some easily debunked misconceptions. 

In our experience, the most common is that agile is confused with individual adaptiveness. This might be a precondition but will not make an organisation agile. Often highly agile individuals are stopped by processes that are not built to deal with agility. Projects are forced to follow a plan that was created upfront, which ultimately results in a higher risk of failure as there is no possibility to deal with uncertainties and new information. Some teams also tell us that asking for a change of plan can be perceived as a lack of competence in many organisations, and nobody wants to look incompetent.   

Adopting an agile approach also means that teams are given the freedom to determine how they like to work, from the planning stage right through to implementation. Many leaders can be concerned that empowering employees in this way will result in less discipline, unproductive planning and no accountability when things don’t get done, rather than delivering real innovation.

Agile professionals know that from a planning point of view, agile practices are very strict and require continuous evaluation, not just a one-time roadmap. Planning should be structured with a long-term view, and refined as initial assumptions are verified and teams receive feedback on their efforts. 

From a productivity perspective, agile promotes self-organisation and empowers individuals to take real ownership of their projects and decision-making. This requires discipline, continuous documentation, a clear set of rules followed by the entire team and defined processes for how deliverables are achieved.

We could spend days talking about the common misunderstandings about agile, but we chose to stop the list here for now. If you’d like us to share more insights into what agile really means, leave a comment and we’ll delve further into the topic in the future. 

Introducing your team to agile ways of working isn’t something that can just be achieved overnight, nor is it a quick fix for the poor processes the team is currently using. 

So, where can you begin? 

‘Acting’ agile is the first step to ‘being’ agile, so it’s good to put practices and processes in place quickly, even though they’re very different working methods.  Start small and scale fast. For example, introduce backlogs and daily stand-ups early on to familiarise your team with agile methodologies. 

That should just be the beginning. A holistic (and agile!) approach to change management is absolutely essential to achieving goals and becoming more productive and innovative. Take it in small steps, and don’t be afraid to ask for expert advice when it comes to planning and managing change. 

Why are so many people confused about what an innovation culture looks like?

In truth, we usually only see one side of the coin when it comes to innovation culture. The side that’s fun and exciting, making innovative organisations look like great places to work. As a result, it’s no surprise that managers are scared to even begin implementing an innovation culture. After all, if work looks like all fun, when do teams actually get stuff done? 

Innovation culture is not all fun and games, endless team-building activities and a constant supply of beer and pizza in the office. It’s not a quick fix for making employees feel valued or showing management that your team can create new and fun ideas.

Real innovation culture looks like a conscious effort to build better practices, more focused teams and employees who are confident in their ability to deliver cutting-edge solutions for their organisations. Sure, there are fun aspects involved, especially when teams are asked to develop creative solutions, but for every fun part of innovation culture, there is also hard work, patience, planning and stellar leadership to make it actually work. 

Interested in our speeches?

We are more than happy to share the presentation decks with you! Fill this form to download a PDF of the slides.

By sending the form, you agree with the Privacy Policy.

Interested in our speeches?

We are more than happy to share the presentation decks with you! Fill this form to download a PDF of the slides.

By sending the form, you agree with the Privacy Policy.