How to Keep Your Innovation Team Energy Growing to Change the World
Greg Stopka, Strategy and Innovation Manager, Park District of Oak Park
Ten factors of a successful innovation team and five ideas for how to sustain it from guest blogger Greg Stopka.
16 October 2017
During the summer of 2014, I was honored to participate in the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia as part of International City/County Management Associations’ Leadership ICMA program. In addition to making amazing professional contacts and friends, I also learned about how to build a high performance organization. Without getting too far into the weeds, the general idea around building a parallel organization is that all staff, from executives to front-line staff, engage in technical work (day to day work) but all employees work should also include management and leadership. By teaching team skills (TS) such as facilitation, conflict management, project management, etc. everyone in the organization is capable of leadership work. Why is this important? Because strategic-thinking throughout an organization is a pre-requisite for innovation.
Many local governments have recognized the importance of incorporating cross-functional teams to address challenges and discuss possibilities. For example a department representative will collaborate with another department representative to develop a new solution to a challenge the organization faces. These teams combine the leadership of coming up with new solutions and the management work of testing out the new ideas.
But how do you encourage this behavior throughout and make it part of the culture? Many local governments have adopted an innovation team, a group of cross-functional employees to develop new ways to promote and encourage innovation. At the Park District of Oak Park, we have instigated an innovation team to discuss strategies to promote more innovation internally and engage employees in the process. One of the key responsibilities of the Team was to “launch” a new idea management system called Launch Pad to gather ideas and increase creative capacity in the organization. Another example of an innovation team comes from Richfield, MN who built a model around multiple innovation teams to engage all staff around pertinent topics such as technology and employee engagement. Successful innovation teams like the ones above include the following 10 factors:
One challenge that all innovation teams face is the sustainability of their efforts. Common questions I used to hear while working with the Alliance for Innovation were, "how do we maintain our innovation team with staff turnover, how do we keep the momentum of the group going, and how do we get more employees engaged in the process beyond our “usual suspects?” The challenge with innovation teams, traditionally, is they start out with a ton of energy and enthusiasm but struggle to spread the energy beyond the team and slowly the flame that started so strong loses some of its spark. In order to overcome the sustainability challenge, organizations need to focus on building capacity. Here are my top 5 ideas on how to do that:
While local governments have made progress in moving toward having a high-performance organizations, building capacity is still a struggle. There is much we can do to keep the energy and momentum of innovation alive and growing. Measure the culture so you know the effort you are putting into your team is working; consider turning your team into a program or academy to ensure new staff can participate and connect your technology efforts to your innovation team so the technology doesn’t leave the culture behind. As you grow think bigger than just your organization such as building a regional innovation cohort and/or incorporating other community institutions in the process. These changes are important as innovation can’t just be seen as the “program of the month” but the foundation for how we do everything.
By continuing to build on the success of innovation teams and growing capacity, we can move to solve the BIG problems, the multi-faceted, complex ones that extend beyond our organizations such as, "How do we ensure every child in our community is prepared for the future world?" These are the types of questions that extend beyond the park districts, city halls, schools. They are the ones that connect our communities so we can leverage our resources and expertise to truly develop innovative solutions. In this way, we can move beyond building high-performance organizations to high performance communities. Then we can begin changing the world.
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Park District of Oak Park, IL
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