Many organizations consider innovation as a critical strategy for growth. Many countries encourage innovation because finding new and better ways to deliver goods, services, and technology increases productivity and leads to economic growth. But here's something you may not have considered: how does innovation increase productivity on teams?
How does innovation increase productivity on teams?
In her book, The Progress Principle, creativity and innovation researcher Teresa Amabile shares the following:
"A sense of making progress on meaningful work was the single most important factor in igniting creativity, satisfaction, and productivity among employees—far more than factors like monetary compensation, praise, or camaraderie.”1
Teams engaged in innovation activities and who understand the greater purpose of their work are more productive when they have a sense of how their work is progressing.
So how does a team get a sense of how their work is progressing?
By engaging in reflective thinking - a process that involves considering one's learning, personal achievements and failures, what did and didn't work and what needs improving.
Where is your team's focus?
Your team is more likely focused on the next thing on their to-do list than they are on reflecting on their accomplishments. In my experience, a reflective thinking practice isn't a common practice on most teams.
This is unfortunate for two reasons:
First, when we don't take the time to reflect on accomplishments, we can get lost in the weeds, stray from the greater purpose of our work, and develop a sense of overwhelm or concern that we're not getting enough done. We fall into the trap of busy, but not productive.
Secondly, when we take the time to reflect on progress it becomes possible to learn how to do things better, faster, more simply. Which is why we innovate.
If your goal is outcome-driven innovation reflecting on progress opens up the possibility of becoming more productive. Reflecting on progress is critical to continuous learning, continuous improvement and innovation.
How to reflect on your progress
At BridgePoint Effect, when we teach innovation skills to teams, we do two things to help teams make sense of their progress. We introduce mindfulness as an essential creativity skill and the Learning Cycle tool as a process to guide reflective thinking.
Mindfulness is one of the more important creativity skills we need to draw upon to engage in innovation productively. It's about attending to thoughts and feelings relative to the present situation by raising self and contextual awareness. The goal of mindfulness is to use heightened awareness to make sense of complex issues and to respond more effectively to a situation. Mindfulness is critical to our ability to diagnose a situation and make choices about next steps.
The Learning Cycle is an important tool because innovation is about learning as you go. If you don't make it a regular habit to assess What? So what? and Now what? as you move through the innovation process, you miss opportunities for the individual, team an organizational learning that's so essential for building knowledge and mastery.The Learning Cycle thinking tool we use comes from the FourSight Thinking System tool kit and helps a team build new habits to use reflective thinking practice. It asks four simple and powerful questions:
- What's working well?
- What should we be doing differently?
- What have we learned or relearned?
- What learnings shall we apply next time?
Every person on the team contributes ideas to help answer each of the first three questions. The protocol is that all ideas are welcome. Once everyone contributes ideas to the first three questions, the team reviews, combines and synthesizes the data to make conclusions and answer the final question.
Teams quickly develop an affection and appreciation for this tool and the learning process it supports. They like having a strategy and discipline to make sense of the progress they're making. They appreciate the opportunity to connect with peers on a deeper level, to sanity check their experiences, find answers to questions that are getting in the way of progress, and work through issues that could take them off course.
Many of the teams we work with call the time and space they make for going through these questions the "learning circle" and protect the commitment to run these sessions.
In reality, the time commitment isn't big given the impact. Often a learning cycle (or circle) can be completed in as few as 15 or 30 minutes. It doesn't have to take long.
The Learning Cycle tool works equally well on a project, functional or operational team. Bring it out when you complete significant work, transition through a project phase or the innovation process.
If your team is doing project work, there's a bonus to adopting this tool. You can use it to guide project retrospectives and post-mortems as you move through the project management process, complete a deliverable or reach a milestone.
So, there you have it.
By developing a habit of reflecting on and making sense of your progress, you find opportunities to appreciate how far you've come.
Reflective thinking focused on accomplishments allows us to course-correct in ways that might save us effort in the future. And, as Amabile's research has shown, recognition of progress also contributes towards more creative, happy, and productive workplaces.
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A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win.
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1. Amabile, T.M., Kramer, S.J. (2011). The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work. Harvard Business Review Press : Boston.