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  • Writer's pictureCristine Saxon

6 Ways Leaders Can Spark Innovation in Times of Uncertainty

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Teams may shy away from innovation when it’s needed the most, during times of uncertainty and change – this is when leaders can set the stage and spark new ideas and energy.

In today’s time of rapid change and widespread uncertainty, it’s common for teams to stay in their comfort zone or maintain the status quo. As a leader it can be hard to figure out how to encourage or motivate people who are worried, overwhelmed or just don’t feel like ‘the juice is worth the squeeze.’

Here are six simple things you can start doing today to rekindle your team’s engine, re-engage their energy and spark innovation:

1. Define Their Sandbox

People thrive with clear expectations. Defining the edges of the team’s sandbox can encourage them to play. Simply telling your team what the boundaries are, by distinguishing between recoverable and unrecoverable errors, will prompt them to try new things and worry less about getting it wrong.

2. Create Safety Together

No one wants to be embarrassed or called out. Creating safety explicitly and collaboratively can foster innovation. If your team doesn’t have rules of engagement or a team contract, create one now. Simply ask: what else do we need to be more innovative and encourage you to bring ideas forward? Without this, people who have innovative ideas may hold back, tiptoe slowly forward, or wait for others to bring things up. Let yourself be surprised by the ideas and energy that safety can create.

3. Optimize Their Strengths

Get the right people in the right roles for innovating. Are your big picture thinkers on brainstorming teams? Are your movers and doers involved in the activation stage? A strengths-based approach keeps people engaged and sparks energy. Got naysayers and resistors? Harness the energy in their resistance by asking them what they’ve noticed that might not work, and what the business impacts will be. Thank them for pointing out risks, and when they bring a helpful one forward, take their advice.

4. Welcome All Ideas

A simple team motto of ‘no idea is a bad one’ can set the tone and encourage people to step up to the challenge, and step into innovation. As a leader, listen to your team, hear their ideas and try responding with “good idea” or “thanks for bringing that forward” or “tell me more” before adding your two cents. Then watch the innovation flow.

5. Remove Obstacles

A smart and innovative leader once asked me: what obstacles can I remove to help you be more successful in your role? I wonder what would happen if you did this with your team. There’s one way to find out!

6. Reward Mistakes

The human brain is wired to avoid making mistakes to keep us safe. Dozens of cognitive biases, such as hindsight bias, placebo effect and zero-risk bias, restrict innovative thinking. Because of this, a team culture that rewards mistakes and uses them to make improvements finds untapped sources of innovation.

Using these six simple tips, leaders foster teams who lean into adversity, bring forward ideas with energy, and create innovative and lasting solutions. And it’s fun in the sandbox.

About Cristine Saxon

Cristine Saxon is a certified coach, leadership consultant, and one of the team of CCE instructors at the University of Regina. She writes regularly on LinkedIn and publishes video shorts on her YouTube Channel from the cockpit of her kayak in the ocean near her home on Vancouver Island.

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