When it comes to innovation many practices find it hard to know where to start. There is such a massive array of options we procrastinate with the hope that things will become clearer down the track. Then just when we get going something happens to derail our plan and we pause again.
The key point about any innovation is that it needs to suit you. Hence the unique position of your business needs to play a significant role in planning your next innovative step. This can be achieved by getting your whole team involved in an innovation/issues workshop.
The focus of the workshop is your unique business, where it is at, and where it wants to go. Hence the attendees should be all those that will be involved in charting the course and executing the plans. Hence include as many of the team as you can. In some cases there will be someone outside the business who can also contribute – perhaps a business coach or accountant.
What about junior staff?
In particular, be sure to invite the junior staff to come along and contribute for several reasons. Firstly, they will be pleased to be included (even if a bit intimidated). Secondly, our experience is that they invariably ask a question or come up with an idea that is right out of left field. While they may not have a solution, their comment sparks a thought in one of the other attendees from which a good idea emerges. Thirdly, by including them at the outset they will understand more about what happens in the future and will feel more aligned with the business initiatives that result.
The principal or a senior staff member should prepare a brief summary presentation about the current state of the business and any major storms on the horizon. This could also include some wish list of things that could be better. Well in advance all attendees should be asked to note anything that they think might be helpful to raise at the workshop. This can include new widgets or approaches to doing business.
To be effective all participants need to feel comfortable to raise whatever they think will help. Hence one key rule is that no idea is a bad one. Nobody should fear being howled down or have their idea criticised. Under no circumstance will an attack on a person or their idea or comment be tolerated. Most of the brainstorming is done in silence which helps reduce this risk. The process allows for the best ideas to bubble to the top, so we do not need to push any to the bottom.
An external facilitator is best if possible so all attendees can focus on the task rather than running the event.
- The facilitator explains the rules.
- The principal gives the positioning presentation.
- Next we identify what needs fixing.
- It is good to start with trying to identify anything that does not work very well or is broken.
- In silence each participant is asked to list all the things they can think of which do not work as well as they could. They do not need to have a solution, just identify the issue.
- The technique is to continually change the focus as guided by the facilitator – start with your own role, then think of others, then from a customer perspective, etc
- Then choose the most important 6 issues and write them on a sticker
- Then construct an affinity diagram where all similar thoughts are grouped together
- Finally use a simple voting technique to gauge the team view of relative priority.
- Next we look for growth or expansionary ideas (which may include new technology)
- This proceeds as above although some will find it hard to generate many ideas here.
- Finally, the facilitator summarises the findings.
As soon as practicable thereafter the principal should decide on the actions to be taken, who is responsible, and advise the group accordingly, together with a date to review progress together.
Some thoughts to help you get started.
- do not wait – start now
- schedule the event and then the rest will come together
- each next time will be better than last time
- set low expectations to start
- ask attendees thoughts on how it went and how to improve