Though multiple innovative organizational models have emerged over the past decades, most for- and non-profit organizations are still structured around the industrial concept of (business) units. Each unit being headed by a senior executive managing highly specialized team members. Program, Fundraising, Marketing and Communication, HR as well as Financial and Administrative units are for instance commonly found in social purpose organizations.

Many silence novel ideas from the start out of fear of rejection on the basis of lack of seniority, age, gender, ethnicity, or else.

In such traditional workplace where hierarchy and hyperspecialization remain prevalent, voicing novelty can be scary for original thinkers. Many silence novel ideas from the start out of fear of rejection on the basis of lack of seniority, age, gender, ethnicity, or else. However, as discussed in previous articles, originality contributes to achieving better results, as a social purpose organization, as a team and as an individual. As such, how can you, as a team leader, create an environment that welcomes and nurtures originality?

Run innovation tournaments

While it is natural to consider creativity as an essential component of successful original ideas, we tend to overlook the crucial importance of timing. Indeed, if an original thinker gets an idea while busy with something else, there is little chance that he or she will act on it. Same goes with a manager, even in an organization that welcomes creativity. An original thinker who voices an idea to an audience whose mind is already occupied, will likely find deaf ears. It is thus essential to make time and space to adequately welcome originality.

The lack of an appropriate framework for originality to fully express itself and be heard is the main reason for the recurring failure of ideas boxes. Despite the genuine desire to foster creativity and team engagement, suggestions boxes are rarely successful. While individuals feel empowered by such initiative at first, they soon stop to fill the established boxes with their cherished ideas as these tend to pile up in boxes that are rarely opened. Such setback can also be due to inadequate priority setting — i.e. the focus has shifted from collecting ideas to handling other business imperatives.

It is essential to make time and space to adequately welcome originality.

Instead of suggestion boxes, you can introduce innovation tournaments. They are a good way to engage your team and yourself from beginning to end. From the generation of original ideas, to their evaluation and the selection of the best ones. Don’t just collect any idea. Channel your team’s creativity towards one specific issue that needs to be tackled. For instance, give your employees 3 to 4 weeks to develop a proposal individually or in teams. Then, have them assess one another’s ideas. The winning team or individual can later receive a budget, a larger team and relevant mentoring to act on the winning original idea. Doing so, you foster the development and follow-through of game-changing ideas. You also strengthen the commitment of your team towards both the unit and the organization’s mission.

Ban the words “like”, “love” and “hate”

Don’t ask your team members whether they like an idea, but ask them to share a more analytical feedback. Doing so, they will feel that they can contribute to new ideas rather than accepting or rejecting them. Their comments will develop the idea further if given properly.

For feedback to be productive, it has to be positive, specific and frequent. As a team leader, create a feedback process in which there is a balance between positive and negative specific comments. By highlighting positive elements, your team and yourself are not only recognizing the work that has been done so far, but you are also leaving the original thinker open to taking new directions. Negative comments on the other hand indicate adjustments that can be made to take the idea further.

Also ensure that feedback is not a one-time only thing. As the idea is being refined and reassessed, so the feedback should be!

Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews

When a staff member leaves an organization, it is often a result of the limitations of her position or of the lack of renewed challenging opportunities within the organization itself. As this time comes, many managers are willing to hear the reasons for such departure. They hope to pin out elements that could be improved in the future for the team and for themselves as team leaders. However, gathering such valuable feedback and insights from team members can be done right from the start!

Indeed, new staff members have a fresh look whose benefit should not be underestimated. You can introduce a process within your team that would encourage the generation and evaluation of feedback from new members. For instance, a month after recruitment, new employees could meet the team and yourself to share their fresh insights into the unit and the organization. In such gathering as well, it is essential to make time and space to adequately welcome novel ideas and act on them.

Claire Barthet

Over the years, Claire put her marketing and communication skills at the service of both non-profit and cultural organizations in Europe, Asia and South America. She also shaped and trained teams in both sectors. She now enthusiastically shares her experience with Han Valk Fundraising Consultancy as well as with our partners.

About the Originality for NGO series

Through a series of four articles, we will explore how triggering and nurturing a culture of originality will help you achieve better results, as a social purpose organization, as a team and as an individual.

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