More collaboration = more innovation

Innovation: has there ever been a word that can mean so much and so little? It can mean many different things: new products, new ideas, new ways of working. It’s a tough word to define, but we all know that it’s necessary to your company’s success.

In the past, senior staff, creative teams and R&D departments were charged with coming up with the ideas that the rest of the workforce then implemented. But this is now changing – your business can innovate through crowdsourced ideas, by engaging with customers through Twitter and forums, and by getting your staff to work together.

Research by Google and the Future Foundation think-tank shows a startling 81 per cent correlation between innovation and collaboration. In other words, the more staff collaborate, the more creative and innovative they become. Easy enough.

You should therefore be trying to facilitate and encourage collaboration amongst your staff, which will give you the next Big Idea. Robert Whiteside, head of Google Enterprise UK, shares his top tips to boosting collaboration amongst staff with us:

1) Adopt collaborative technology: Giving employees new tools such as the ability to work simultaneously on a document online, instant messaging and web portals for staff blogs, will provide a good foundation for building a contribution culture. (Ed: For example, Huddle is one of the best ones around – and it’s British and entrepreneurial!)

2) Look for ‘technology evangelists’ within your company who naturally “get” and are already immersed in collaborative and social networking tools. It’s important not to force these tools down staff’s throats: let them discover the benefits gradually and learn from one another, with the help of evangelists, so they don’t feel as if new working methods are being imposed on them.

3) Be open to ideas from all staff: Encourage employees at all levels to pool creative resources. The next great idea could come from a graduate or support staff and, with the right infrastructure for ideas sharing in place, all ideas can be heard and explored.

4) Recognise the individual, as well as the team: The difficulty with team work is that it isn’t always clear who came up with the idea. You’ll need to find ways of monitoring your teams and engaging with them so you are aware of contributions at an individual level.

5) Think creatively about a rewards process: This doesn’t have to mean financial rewards for every good idea (although Google’s research showed this is an excellent incentive for many staff). For instance, Google allows its employees to dedicate 20 per cent of their time to develop new ideas, not directly linked to their main projects, and see them through to fruition. (Ed: our IT team at Caspian Publishing, Real Business’s parent, does this too, and have come up with some great ideas. It works!)

6) Encourage staff to develop professional networks: Google’s research shows that one in five employees believe that the next generation of innovation will come from companies that encourage cross-industry collaboration. In this context, personal and professional networks will become even more important. Staff’s personal networks, often independent of formal management lines, will be a real asset for companies, and business contextual social networking should be explored.

7) Make sure you shout about your collaborative technology, especially while many competitors may be stuck with clunky in-house systems. The majority of people Google surveyed (68 per cent) believe that in the future, businesses will have to offer the very latest technology and virtual workspaces to attract and retain the brightest workforce.

8) Put in structures and processes to gather and filter ideas from your staff. According to Google’s research, only 15 per cent of employees are satisfied with the processes their company has in place to allow them to contribute new ideas.

9) Look for contribution from outside of the organisation: A great example of this is Dell’s IdeaStorm collective, which gives consumers the chance to take part in online brainstorm sessions, sharing ideas and collaborating to influence R&D. 

10) Be prepared for structural change: As businesses move towards this type of collaborative working environment, and human interaction becomes a core part of business success, aspects of the HR and IT departments and job responsibilities could integrate. HR will need to motivate and incentivise staff to generate ideas and IT will need to provide the best infrastructure to enable it. Look for ways for the two to meet up and work more closely together.

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