There is no denying that big ideas move businesses — as well as the industry that surrounds them — forward. Game-changing innovation is so sought-after that many business leaders dedicate their time almost entirely to building a “culture of innovation” in their workplaces.

Building a truly innovative company isn’t easy. While many would ascribe big breakthroughs to a handful of a CEOs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates, recent scholarship has increasingly found that innovation is the work of a group rather than of one “lone genius.” Research at the University of Tennessee, for instance, has found that innovation happens through collaboration, in a concept that they like to call collective “sweat equity.”

As we’ve seen, lack of workplace collaboration or an inability to effectively collaborate is a common roadblock that holds companies back from innovating. In this post, we’ll explore three ‘collaboration breakdowns’ which could be stopping your organization from innovating and offer best practices that, if applied, not only lead to increased employee engagement and operational efficiency, but give room for new ideas to flourish.

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Three Common Roadblocks to Innovation

1. Your Information is in Silos

One of the surest ways to stunt the growth of an innovation culture is to trap your company knowledge in silos. When information is siloed, it can’t communicate with other information systems in your knowledgebase and therefore can’t be used by the majority of your company. Information silos inhibits the free flow of relevant information that gets the job done, thereby limiting the resources needed to fuel creative thinking.

Sharing ideas is essential for creative thinking. Unifying your collective knowledge is a critical first step to improve your company’s information flow and making sure that your company’s ideas are shared properly.

Having a proper Knowledge Management (KM) strategy means getting your knowledge out of your silos and into the hands of all of your employees and departments. While effective KM has a myriad of business advantages, KM crucially helps with employee collaboration. By getting outside of the department-silo mindset, you can enable your employees to think up new solutions to old problems.

2. You’re Thinking Inside the Box

“If only we had more resources” is a common refrain that companies use to justify their lack of innovation. Resources are often confused with money. While money is certainly a resource, it’s not the only one and it’s rarely the solution to the innovation problem many companies are faced with today. Steve Jobs famously said that “innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have.” In the same interview, Jobs emphasized that “when Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

Unlimited resources (read: money) can only ever be band-aid solution if you don’t get to the root of the problem. People are a company’s most powerful, yet most commonly overlooked resource. Leaders that can effectively get departments to collaborate with one another in the name of a common goal — a vision that everyone “gets” — will benefit most in the digital age. Leveraging your company’s collective knowledge and unifying it so that it can be shared across the organization is fundamental in increasing operational efficiency, increasing profit, and continually being able to think outside the box.

Collaboration is at the core of operational efficiency. Being a more efficient organization starts with enabling your team to share ideas, expertise and information, company-wide, to help themselves and each other find the best solution possible in the quickest amount of time. Coupled with a strong knowledge management strategy, made bulletproof with good intranet search, your workforce will be set up to innovate relentlessly. Boosting innovation is really about your company’s ability to remain relevant to all its constituents, including your employees. Some of the best ideas are borne out of necessity.

3. You’re Not Leveraging Customer Data

“The customer is always right” has never been more true: you need to constantly have your finger on the pulse of what your customers need and want in order to innovate. Your customers tell you something every time they engage with your brand. Listening to what they’re saying and prioritizing their satisfaction will help you to remain relevant and ahead of the trend.

Businesses that go beyond simply pleasing their customers stand to gain a lot of ground. Your relationship with your customers should be a dialogue rather than a one-way street: innovative ideas stem from a solid understanding of the ever-evolving needs of your customers and how your organization can be the solution that they’re looking for.

Just as you need to foster employee collaboration, so too should you foster customer collaboration when trying to improve your own product or service. Tracking usage analytics is one way to know where your customers are struggling. Taking time to understand your data will surface valuable insights that will help you to improve your product or service without ever communicating with your customers in focus groups. Knowing what your customers search for using your site search, for instance, can shed light on what your customers value or use the most after purchasing your product or service.

Figuring out your website’s content gaps can also help high-level strategy and product idea generation. Let’s say your site visitors are consistently searching for a feature that you don’t offer at all — maybe it’s time to consider the possibility of innovating your product or service to give your customers what they want.

With that being said, understanding your customer’s problems and concerns — responsibilities that fall under the purview of your product and customer support teams — need a place to be unified and collectively addressed. Facilitating the discussion of these problems through a collaborative data management system will get rid of roadblocks and allow your company to effectively innovate your product or service organically.

With these three roadblocks out of the way, your business can learn to leverage collaboration as a way of re-imagining your innovation strategy. By unifying your company knowledge with an effective KM strategy and enabling your teams to use it in the flow of their work, you stand to innovate considerably across your lines-of-business.

It’s important to remember that change is good and necessary. Consider putting organization against certain constraints and to find the most original way to go around those problems through a company-wide collaborative process. Keep your team informed and innovation will follow, inevitably leading to better more engaged employees, more satisfied customers and more return on your investment.   

Learn how you can better align your people, processes and technology to remain relevant and build a foundation for innovation in our post:

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