Teams and Trust: The Impetus of an Innovation Culture

Innovation isn’t a solo sport. Managers need to make sure everyone on the team is engaged and motivated. But what’s the secret? In this article, we discuss how working in cross-functional teams and establishing managerial trust forms the backbone of effective innovation projects. 

If you’ve ever worked for a start-up, you might have experienced the energising feeling of working for an exceptional leader with a vision for the change she wants to make in the world and being a key member of a dedicated team of specialists focused on solving problems. 

It’s not just start-ups that give us that feeling of energised purpose. Increasing numbers of employees are looking to work in companies that provide them with opportunities to hone their innovation skills.

But what is it about the innovation experience that is so engaging and, what can business leaders learn and apply to their own businesses to increase employee engagement?

A 2019 ADP study of more than 19,000 workers globally, led by Harvard Business Review contributors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, found that building teams and having trust in team leaders are among the most important influences on employee engagement.

Building the best teams

Buckingham and Goodall’s work examined engagement as a set of measurable attitudes. Each of the eight questions asked the employee to rate only their feelings and experiences, rather than their perception of other people or their company. It was found that attitudes centred around four definitive clusters; having a clear sense of purpose, a commonly held notion of what’s valuable or important, feelings of psychological safety and confidence about the future.

As business leaders, we want to develop these attitudes and often our instinct is to tackle organisational culture. We offer more support to employees, focus on work/life balance and develop our ‘talent brand’ to define companywide expectations. Alternatively, we address these issues on the other end of the spectrum, by focusing on the individual worker’s needs. This thinking leads to individuals being considered as something to improve: what training programme do they need, should they be moved, or worse, moved on.

Both of these solutions fail to address the relationship between the organisation and the individual. By isolating the two, it is impossible to effectively influence the way employees are really working – in teams.

83% of all work is done in teams. The best organisations are the ones which encourage the development and support the needs of their teams.

There are four factors that separate the best teams from the rest:

Innovation managers will know that good innovation projects require cross-functional teams, built on trust and psychological safety, and focused on solving problems that the team finds important. These are the very factors shown by ADP to drive employee engagement.

The power of trust

A worker is 12 times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she is involved in a team and has developed trust for the team leader.

But what can managers do to build trust?

Insights from the report found that trust was developed when workers understood what a manager’s expectations of them were and when the worker had the chance to use their strengths every day. When an employee responded positively to these aspects it indicated that their team leader understood and was focused on the employee. 

This type of working gives employees the space they need to grow themselves and in turn, the business.

To further engage employees, ADP suggests managers should encourage the development of a ‘home team’ with who an employee does the day to day activities core to their role, and a ‘gig team’ which allows them time to do side projects that utilise their strengths, grow their knowledge and align with their passions. Utilising this mix of core work and innovation work engages employees and adds value to the organisation.

Use innovation to encourage employee engagement

Often, we think innovation is a valuable activity because it benefits the customer. We search for new revenue streams or methods to increase productivity.

While this is true, are we missing the opportunity to think about innovation as a key part of your employee value proposition?

Teamwork feeds an organisation’s innovation system. Innovation projects comprise of small, cross-functional teams that play to an individual’s strengths while assisting in collective learning.

Have you considered if your innovation programme is driving employee engagement?

Put it another way, have you considered who actually wants to work for a company that doesn’t foster a culture of innovation?

As businesses discover the value of establishing an innovation culture, they realise that the impact goes far beyond product development and efficiency improvements. When used right, innovation unlocks the potential of the people within a business. It fosters the psychological necessities of an engaged and fulfilled employee, in turn offering advantageous long-term benefits.

Do you need your innovation programme to start developing employee engagement? Book a meeting with an IMS consultant.