Your company’s culture has everything to do with its ability to innovate.
In the past decade as a product strategy and design consultant, I’ve seen a lot of software and worked with teams that run the gamut on their approach to design and development of transformative technology. The characteristics of individuals and the ethos of the team are among the most influential factors to successful innovation.
Traits to Look for and Foster
Here are some traits to look for and foster within your team’s culture to give your new initiatives their best chance of success:
1. User-focus. In some lexicons, this is known as design thinking. Whatever you call it, it is identifiable within a team’s culture as a creative, solution-oriented approach that emphasizes problem solving focused on how real humans/customers/users interact with your product or service.
2. Accountability and efficiency. Anytime I interact with a team, I’m constantly rating (in my own head) its “Gross Domestic Product.” How quickly is the product getting to market? Do individuals act with high level of personal accountability? How much time is being wasted not making decisions?
Because here’s the thing: Lethargic cultures don’t produce or welcome new ideas.
Innovation comes from teams made up of passionate, proactive and productive doers. It has been my experience that employees who operate with a high degree of engagement and accountability also tend to have greater empathy for others, which makes them more likely to recognize — and take the initiative to fix — poor customer experiences.
3. Openness to feedback. Employees at design-forward organizations are accustomed to giving and receiving feedback across all levels of management. Being open to input — from co-workers, staff who report to you and the customers you serve — is a must.
Truly confident leaders are comfortable with the idea that they don’t know what they don’t know. They consider evidence that casts doubt on a hypothesis or strategy, especially when it comes through research and data analytics.
Designers get a lot of practice accepting and incorporating changes. We don’t take it as an affront to our brilliance, or a slap in the face to our years of experience at the company, when we learn something was not as successful as we anticipated. In fact, this experience is fairly commonplace. When issues are identified through user testing early in the strategy phase, there’s plenty of time to course-correct. Failing fast is a rush!
4. Humble confidence. In customer-centric cultures, leaders operate with a high degree of self-confidence that manifests itself as humility rather than protectionism.
Those with genuine confidence in their abilities are accepting of new ideas. Challenges are not met with fear or defensiveness but rather with the desire to learn. This mindset transfers to their team members, creating environments where people feel secure and supported, even when the winds of change blow their way.
A Powerful Opportunity
Last year, we took time to understand and articulate our culture at Useagility. It has been valuable to have these written statements that remind all of us of how we desire to operate. But even more powerful was the opportunity to hear how employees articulate what they think the culture actually is, rather than having the leadership team try to define what we think the culture is or should be.
So, go ahead and consider how you would rate your team on these four traits, but don’t stop there. Talk to your team to find out what they think, then figure out where the gaps are and focus on those. The gaps are where the most effort is required of leaders.
If you want to use a design-forward approach to drive innovation, take a look under the hood and find out what you’re actually dealing with culture-wise. Then go to work creating the change necessary to build truly transformational products.