Let’s dispel an innovation myth. Here’s one: innovation suffers if you can’t get everyone together in the office.
The perception that innovation only happens when people are in the same room (i.e., working synchronously) at the same time is just that—a perception. It’s one based on the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” principle. It’s a misperception, not a fact.
Research points to increased potential for innovation and greater idea generation in a hybrid or remote workspace. A hybrid workplace increases the likelihood of bringing out the best ideas from people because they’re able to work in a way that better suits and motivates them. In Citrix’s survey report, The Era of Hyper-Innovation, 93% of business leaders said “increased digital collaboration has amplified more diverse voices, resulting in richer idea generation.”
What actually happens during in-person brainstorming sessions?
As for in-person brainstorming, many studies show it is worse than alternative practices. Yes, live brainstorming feels good, but asynchronous brainstorming actually results in more ideas. In practice, in-person brainstorming suffers from stifled creativity, production blocking, and evaluation apprehension.
You don’t need research to tell you that getting creative on demand doesn’t work for everyone. Creativity isn’t a spigot you can turn on and off. Inspiration comes at odd times in unlikely places: showering, mowing the lawn, driving, or falling asleep.
“Production blocking” can prevent the best ideas from being heard. The loudest or most influential voices monopolize conversation. When one person’s idea becomes the focus, others don’t speak up or are ignored when they do. Introverts and employees without social capital (new employees, employees in particular jobs) are not likely to interrupt, so they don’t contribute.
Many people think better when alone or with someone who helps refine or provide feedback for ideas. Others, especially if they have “evaluation apprehension” may be reluctant to share their ideas because they fear judgment or suffer from social anxiety or imposter syndrome.
Prevent these scenarios by intentionally designing an equitable, inclusive, and empowering hybrid workplace.
How to create a hybrid environment that fuels innovation
You can adapt a traditional practice, like brainstorming, to new conditions and enhance your team’s capacity for innovation by focusing on these four principles.
#1: Facilitate connection.
Establish new practices and routines that keep the team spirit alive regardless of location. Ahead of the first agenda item in a large staff meeting, randomly assign people to breakout rooms for a ten-minute chat. Do the same as one group in smaller meetings.
Leaders and managers must set aside time for building this human connection piece into the organizational culture. Group trust is necessary for collaboration, but it only comes by establishing and deepening social connections.
Encourage team cohesion by reminding everyone about common goals. You’re all working in the same direction and putting in the effort to make a difference.
#2: Provide psychological safety.
A workplace that doesn’t convey psychological safety is not conducive to brainstorming. When employees become more comfortable with each other and management, apprehension decreases. They dare to think differently, be vulnerable, and open up. An organization with a culture of psychological safety creates a breeding ground for innovation. In a high-candor and low-fear environment, employees are more likely to express ideas, ask questions, and “fuss and discuss” until everything has been put on the table.
#3: Reduce proximity bias.
Managers of hybrid workforces are prone to proximity bias: favoring the employees they see in person and overlooking the ones working from home. Create an equitable work environment by always drawing out the voices of those who work from home and those who don’t always speak up.
#4: Empower a diversity of work styles.
A hybrid workspace allows employees to work in a way that’s best for their performance and lifestyle. Let this diversity flourish in the options you offer for brainstorming and ideation, too. Some people need to think deeply to come up with an idea, while others prefer to talk it out. Make sure everyone is empowered to contribute.
Tips for successful asynchronous brainstorming
Asynchronous brainstorming gives everyone a fair shot at ideation and, as the research proves, is a more effective way to gather a greater quantity and quality of ideas. You can still enjoy buzzy idea synergy with asynchronous brainstorming without requiring physical presence and synchronous idea generation.
- Use a Collaboration Tool – Instead of starting an ideation session or new initiative in a meeting, use a collaboration tool to present the challenge and request ideas or solutions. Consider making submissions anonymous if you think that will help the flow of ideas. But give one person permission to see idea sources so they can follow up or involve people later.
- Review, Comment, and Supplement – After gathering ideas, clean them up and present them to the team for reviewing, commenting, and supplementing—the “yes, and” process. Go through this process a time or two again until you’ve homed in on a few to discuss and select for action.
- “Me, Pair, Share” – is a training session technique that helps ease people into the brainstorming process. Assign each person to a pair. In response to a cue, they take time individually to reflect and write down ideas, and afterwards, share their ideas with each other. Then, as a pair, they share their contributions with the larger group.
- Open a Chat Box – If you do a synchronous (live) virtual brainstorming session, open up the chat box for discussion because some people will be more comfortable sharing there. One person facilitates the live discussion, and another facilitates the chat box. Share and recap the contributions from both places, so everyone gets the opportunity to “yes-and” on all ideas.
- Enable the White Space: Innovation will languish if people are overwhelmed with work. They need enough white space in their heads to take a fresh approach to problems—or even allow their brains to settle in on a problem. During live brainstorming sessions, schedule breaks, so minds have a chance to relax and work in the background.
- Dedicate a Collaboration Channel: Don’t reserve ideation only for special occasions. Dedicate a channel on your collaboration platform where staff can share random ideas and musings. You could post an idea spark and see what they come up with.
While it’s true that innovation can spark anywhere, giving your team the space to “light the match” requires intentionality. By instituting the various mechanisms for collaboration and ideation outside a boardroom, you open the doors to imagination. Give people the space to free their minds, and the possibilities for innovation become limitless.
If you’re not sure where to start in getting your organization “sparked” in a new way, contact us. We can help.