You're only as good as your last idea.  This is a sad and unfortunate truth for many teams and individuals. The pressure to continually perform, add value and differentiate yourself is an exhausting and never-ceasing pursuit

The pressure is highest for managers. Not only do you need to differentiate yourself, but you must also provide direction and guidance so that your team can follow suit. With budgets fleeting, innovation is becoming a more challenging and unrealistic ask.  Nevertheless, improvement and progress isn't an option. 

So how do you come up with your team's next big idea? This is going to sound counterintuitive, but you don't. Instead, you need to turn your attention to fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to think creatively at the desk level. 

Here are the three team aspects that make the biggest impact. 

Encourage risk-taking. 

Employees won't challenge the status-quo and run the risk of failing unless they have the full support of their managers. 

Establish, upfront, that new ideas and opinions are valued. Seek to create a "lab-like" environment where employees are encouraged to experiment, test boundaries, and come up with original ideas. More importantly, an environment where they can fail safely.

In my experience, failure still breeds new ideas that lead to minor process improvements. Or, they validate the current system which is also important.

Innovation is not the result of exclusive action. We can't hit "home-runs" every day. Organizations that innovate consistently do so as a result of small tweaks that accumulate over time. However, employees won't pursue them unless they have the freedom to do so. 

Increase connection and collaboration. 

Compartmentalizing and siloing your team is one of the fastest ways to bury the innovative spirit. Instead, create an environment of collaboration by encouraging your employees to work with and learn from others. 

By making a conscious effort to collaborate, our teams increase their capacity and capability to solve challenging problems, learn from diverse perspectives, and have more fun in the process; which in turn breeds more connection. 

To do things your team has never done, it will need to think in ways it has never thought. you can speed up the process by introducing new skills and viewpoints to the mix.  

Create a shared vision, but allow employees to pursue it autonomously. 

In other words, communicate the big picture, and then get out of people's way. Unfortunately, many managers push employees for new ideas but unintentionally squash their curiosity by superimposing boundaries and "old-ways" of thinking. 

Think creatively, as long as it's in these areas. Come up with a new idea, as long as it fits this mold. 

Unless employees feel a sense of autonomy, they will default to what's known and safe which limits innovation. 

To spur innovation, encourage your employees to think big, work hard, and build something better than it was yesterday. Then, sit back and watch as dominos begin to fall, and employees' actions accumulative into bigger and better ideas. 

Published on: Nov 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.