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Innovation and Collaboration: A Note to Company Leaders

Innovation and Collaboration: A Note to Company Leaders
Collaboration happens at the water cooler!
Innovation happens face-to-face!
Collaboration happens in an open office space!

It’s the rallying cry of CEOs and leaders all over the world. And it’s getting stronger and stronger the longer COVID keeps people working remotely. You have joined the chorus. You believe that innovation and collaboration thrive only in the office.

As a result, you are pushing people back into the office. Even mandating the return to the office.

But isn’t that the opposite of innovation? Falling back to beliefs and patterns that you did before.

Pause there one more time.

Innovation is defined as a new idea, method, or device. It’s defined as the introduction of something new, or an improvement to something that already exists.

Going back to doing something you’ve always done before is not innovative.

And there is no collaboration here, either. When was the last time that you collaborated on a strong belief you already had? Never.

If you want innovation and collaboration, you have been given the opportunity right now to be the model for your leaders and your employees. You have been given the opportunity to challenge the idea that innovation happens in the middle of a conference room. You have been given the opportunity to challenge the idea that collaboration occurs at the water cooler. You have been given the opportunity to innovate the work experience.

Where do you begin?

Start by first reflecting on your beliefs.

  • What do I believe to be true about innovation?
  • What do I believe to be true about our culture?
  • What do I believe to be true about collaboration?
  • What do I believe to be true about a successful business?
  • What do I believe to be true about a rockstar employee?
  • What do I believe to be true about working remotely?
  • What do I believe to be true about being in the office?

Be completely honest with yourself. You are going to have to dig deep on this one, because the first answer is not the one you are looking for here.

For example, when you answer the "What do I believe to be true about being in the office?" question, you may believe that it creates an environment of collaboration. But go deeper than this. What is important to you about seeing people in the office?

Many leaders don’t want to admit this and will adamantly deny this, but if you are honest about why it is important for you to see people in the office and at their desks, it has nothing to do with collaboration. If you see them, they must be working. If you see them, you can’t be ignored. If you see them, they must be productive.

Be okay with being uncomfortable with your answers. It is okay that those are your beliefs. Do you want to continue to believe in this? Or are you willing to change your beliefs?

Innovation starts in this moment. The moment when you challenge what you always considered a truth. Are you willing to change your beliefs?

[Related: How Innovation Starts with an Honest and Open Dialogue with Yourself]

Be vulnerable and invite people in to collaborate with you on what’s next.

If the answer is yes and you are willing to change your beliefs and challenge them, now is the time to stand up in front of your employees and be vulnerable. Tell them your current beliefs point blank. Don’t beat around the bush. Say it as it is.

I have realized that my mandating us back to work is because I’m scared that I won’t be able to get answers I need anymore.
I have realized that the reason for wanting us all back in the office is because I believe you aren’t working if you aren’t at your desk.

Now is the time to be vulnerable.

Then invite them into helping you create new beliefs. Set up one-on-one Zoom conversations with employees who are interested, from every-level to departments. Let them know you are ready to throw away your beliefs and want to collaborate on a new way of working,

Show them you are ready by being curious with them. Listen to them. Take notes! (Yes, you take the notes. No one in that room should be taking notes but you!)

Ask them questions about their experience of work before the pandemic. Ask them questions about their experience of work during the pandemic. Ask them questions about innovation. What do they think is innovative in your industry and outside your industry? Dig deep. Ask follow-up questions. Ask them about how they have experienced collaboration. What did a successful collaboration look like? What made it successful?

Use what you find out to create an opportunity to collaborate with your employees on how to create a thriving work experience full of innovation and collaboration.

[Related: In Search of You, Chief Empathy Officer]

Hold yourself accountable.

You have to do it! This is not an exercise you do once and then throw by the wayside. You have to start embedding what you learned into your day-to-day. Not just your employees', but your day-to-day.

You are the role model for the behavior and experience you want your employees to have, so find a way to hold yourself accountable to the culture you want. Find a way to continuously unearth your beliefs that get in the way of innovation and collaboration.

It’s time that, as a CEO or leader in your organization, you stop hiding behind innovation and collaboration as the reasons for your desire to get back to the office. Step up and hold yourself to a higher standard. Be a role model for innovation and collaboration at one of the most defining moments of how people work in our lifetime.

[Related: Supporting Each Other From Six Feet Apart]

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Jamie Martin is a life and leadership coach who helps women who have been going and going and going for so long that they feel like they've lost themselves. She helps her clients give themselves permission to put themselves first, create a plan, and go after their dreams.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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