Written by Nick Gold, MD of Speakers Corner
A year into the pandemic we now understand teams are used to working remotely. Indeed, there is an acceptance from business leaders that the office/remote working hybrid model is here to stay.
The challenge for businesses is how to replicate the creativity that stems from in-person meetings; be that formal away days, impromptu meetings, or water-cooler moments. Not all of our staff will be in the office at the same time 5-days a week, with a rota system becoming the norm. As a result, waiting for physical meetings to occur will slow down the pace of innovation creating the need to adapt our working practices.
Innovation and creativity are fantastic, dynamic words, conjuring visions of moving forwards, pushing boundaries, new opportunities, and of course, staying relevant. They are the lifeblood of all successful businesses, yet it is perceived that this can only happen when you have those ‘creative types’ in a room coming up with new ideas and paths forward.
For over a year now, as we have navigated through the pandemic (and continue to do so) we should take a moment to acknowledge that innovation has been the critical driver for every individual, team and company as, at the very least, they have switched to remote working, while those businesses or sectors which have had been impacted to greater extents by the pandemic have had to re-evaluate, position and change their business models and processes to deal with this new reality. This is innovation in its rawest form and needs to be kept in mind, acknowledged, and celebrated as our focus turns to more strategic thinking beyond the pandemic.
There is no doubt we have come to appreciate the value of in person meetings, impromptu gatherings, or water cooler moments as we have all sat in our makeshift offices at home. We have valued the time we have gathered with our peers and teams over the virtual meeting room to chew the fact and grasp hold of that social interaction we have all been missing. However, this is balanced as it has been while struggling with the ‘zoom fatigue’ and the regimented restrictive conversation flow that occurs in a virtual meeting.
As discussions flow about what the future of work looks like, how the office, remote working or the hybrid scenario fits for each individual and each business, a part of this is around how we can recreate those moments that occur face to face when inspiration is drawn from the collective gathering of minds and the free flow and meanderings of a conversation that results in new and exciting practices and strategies.
We need to stop looking back and waiting for a ‘return to normal’, and instead celebrate how we have demonstrated innovating thoughts and practices through the pandemic and focus on what we can learn from this period to carry us forward.
This is about culture, empowerment, and trust. Teams and businesses survived and adapted quickly with great success as leaders were forced to let go of control and trust their teams to deliver under different circumstances. These three words are the critical words when dealing with innovation. A company and its leaders that can demonstrate to every individual that their ideas are valued and even more so, acted on, is a company that will have an innovative culture whatever the circumstances.
Any team leader has to understand that those moments that occur in meetings or around the office aren’t something that are scripted or pre-determined and as such can’t be controlled. As such, the confines of the virtual platform and the hybrid team dynamics should not be seen as a blocker for innovation to thrive, but rather a challenge that must be navigated through. The leader must focus on the influence they can exert to create environments where the team are empowered to think, to be in a moment with others and to be taken away from their inbox or that pressing task that needs to be done.
The challenge for leaders is to create new environments where innovation can thrive and ensuring every single individual in our team feel empowered and energised, that they have a voice, and their ideas will have an impact on the strategy moving forwards.
Creating the meeting space as a conversation, where opinions are to be aired rather than an occasion solely for reporting would be a start. Empowering the meeting space so it is not run or owned by the leader is the next logical step. It might even be suggested that the least important person to attend the meeting is the leader, they can disseminate the information they need to share in other ways and allow the meeting to be about the team.
The critical element to this is that ideas and thoughts needs to be acted on or delivered to, so the team understand that their creativity thinking and their time away from their ‘structured’ work is as important if not more important that the delivery of their work.
The role of an external person either speaking or facilitating the conversation then comes to the forefront. This external person can give their thoughts or learnings which can spart debate, discussion, and ideas or else the facilitator can encourage, cajole, and empower the people at the meeting to engage and as an outsider, with no axe to grind in the game can hold the leader accountable to deliver to the outcomes of this innovative moments.