Alistair Gordon (pictured below) is the CEO of Expertunity, an expert coach, speaker, a long-time veteran of the media and organisational-development worlds and co-author of the new book, Master Expert: how to achieve peak performance, seniority and influence in a technical role. In this guest post, he explains four steps agencies and marketing departments should take to encourage innovation by technical, research and insight staff…
Agencies and marketing teams have well-established techniques to encourage creativity, but does their use extend across cross-disciplinary teams? If you feel production, insight, research and other technical staff have few ideas to add, your company may be blocking the creation and transmission of those ideas.
Take four steps to take to encourage creativity and innovation.
- Make the big picture clear
I’ve been coaching senior technical specialists for nearly 10 years now, and they have a set of common complaints. First, they are asked to join projects far too late, when a project team is already established, and project outlines have already been decided.
Often decisions are made by those without the technical knowledge needed to identify where innovation could occur, or pitfalls be avoided. The specialist then becomes a Cassandra endlessly, negatively and annoyingly pointing out where future problems will occur.
Technical people need to involved in projects from day one, so they can see the big picture and understand the overall objectives of a project or campaign. They can then engage the positive side of their expertise, offering ideas for more successful creative, and more effective ways or save budget.
- Add thinking time
Second, technical specialists are often so overloaded with work and deadlines that they simply churn out work. They don’t have time, and are under too much stress, to step back and think creatively about how to work, rather than what to do next.
If time for thinking cannot be formally created during a project, at least ensure a review takes place at its end, allowing the specialist’s expert analysis of the project can be heard by the entire team.
Your agency or team may make time for post-project retrospectives for creatives, but is the full cross-functional larger team included? If technical specialists are not involved, it is unlikely real work will be done to improve process or technical approach.
High performing teams always have post implementation review meetings and discuss what worked well, what could have been done better, and importantly, what should we ensure we do differently next time.
- Get out more
Third, technical specialists need encouragement to venture out beyond their immediate environment, and return with new ways of working.
Technical experts who can’t break out of their relentless cycle of deadlines inevitably become internally focused. They disconnect from industry innovation, customers and new ideas.
This is why managers of technical teams, or of cross-functional projects, need to create time for experts to “get out more”. They also need to encourage specialists to spend time developing their external networks.
- Break down silos
Finally, over time, given the pressure they are under, technical departments can disconnect from the team, the larger organisation, and each other.
If managers don’t devote energy to resolving this problem, tension and misunderstanding will become the order of the day.
Make sure that different departments and specialisms spent time together, via buddy relationships, by training diverse groups together, and by asking cross-functional groups to share insights about what each does.
You can’t claim to have productive collaboration until you see one team actively reach out to other parts of the business, to gather ideas and insights from a different perspective.
Technical teams need an environment and management that encourages them to reach out, and gives them permission to spend the time to do so. That’s when the best ideas start to be shared, and innovation really begins.
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