The Reason That Innovation Isn’t Happening In Your IT Team

Innovation Only Happens When Team Members Feel That They're Wanted
Innovation Only Happens When Team Members Feel That They’re Wanted

How many times do you have to tell your team: it’s time to start innovating again? The global recession is over, if your part of the IT department is going to start to grow and be successful, then your team is going to have to be out in front and leading the charge. Since budgets are still constrained, it’s going to take a great deal of innovation to find ways to do more with what you currently have. Why isn’t anyone doing this?

You Are Not Alone

I’m not sure if this is going to make you feel any better, but as an IT Team Leader you are not alone in this absence of innovation. Lots of IT teams are finding that they are missing that spark of innovation also.

What’s going on here? That’s the very question that two researchers, Feirong Yuan and Richard Woodman , set out to answer. They sent out surveys to 100’s of employees of companies and they covered everyone from the top of the pyramid to the folks working in the mailroom.

It’s All About Image

Their findings were actually quite interesting. What they discovered is that innovation in an IT team is being withheld because team members are concerned about the risk to their workplace image that being seen as being innovative would cause. The power of creating unfavorable social impressions with their coworkers is what is keeping their mouths shut.

A lot of this can be tied back to just exactly what a given IT worker’s job title is. If it doesn’t explicitly say “innovator” in their job description, then you’ve got a problem. Team members who are not expected to be innovators feel that their coworkers will develop a negative impression of them if they start to suggest different ways of doing things.

This goes even one step further. The researchers discovered that many IT team members fear that too much innovation on their part will start to “provoke anger” among their fellow IT coworkers. This will be especially true with those workers who are happy with the way that things are – the “don’t rock the boat” mentality.

The Role Of The IT Leader

As the IT Leader, it’s going to be your job to make innovation happen in your IT team. If you don’t, then you won’t be an IT Leader for very long. What you are going to have to communicate to the entire team is that the whole IT department is behind the push for more innovation.

Showing that innovation is what is being expected will go a long way in setting the stage for your team. Telling the team over and over again that you are looking for them to be innovative will serve to lower the perceived social risk of coming forward with innovative suggestions.

Your job as an IT Leader is to create an IT workplace where your team will feel comfortable in being innovative. This means that you are going to have to make everyone understand that individual differences are not only tolerated, but are actually critical in order to help the team look at problems in different ways.

What All Of This Means For You

As an IT Leader you are going to have to make the most out of the resources that you have – funding will always be tight. This means that you are going to have to find ways to get your IT team to get creative and innovate. However, recent studies have shown that workers who are not expected to be innovative often worry about their image and don’t speak up.

In order to change this, as an IT Leader you are going to have to clearly and repeatedly communicate to the team that innovation is not only encouraged, but it is also expected. You’re going to have to create an environment in which all workers feel comfortable speaking up and being innovative.

There is no one magic action that you can take to make your team be more innovative. However, given time and a consistent message from you that innovation is a good thing, you can convince everyone in your team to think hard and become the innovation engine that the IT department is going to need in order to both survive and thrive.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What is the one thing that you think an IT Leader can do to make innovation happen in an IT team?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Being an IT Leader is a hard job. On any given day, you’ll have multiple people pulling on you trying to get you to do 100 different things. The question that you have to keep asking yourself is “what should my team be working on right now?”