Don’t forget the introverts in your next innovation project
An indisputable key to a successful innovation project is the diversity of the project team members. The power of diversity is in the varying experiences and ideas each team member brings to the table. Different perspectives generate better and more varied ideas, ultimately creating more successful outcomes.
“Diversity” can mean different things to different people though. In case of an innovation project, we mean diversity in every sense of the word: team members should hold different positions in the organization and at different levels in different departments; the team should be composed of varying ethnicities, backgrounds, lifestyles, and demographics. The more diverse, the better!
One factor that may be overlooked though? The balance of extroverts and introverts on your innovation team. If you believe that the team is strengthened by including only those employees who are more extroverted (“She’s always talking – she’d be great for our team!”), it’s time to reconsider.
According to the Quiet Leadership Institute, 50% of the U.S. workforce self-identifies as introverts. 64% of workers believe their organization does not fully harness the talents of the introverted employees. What’s more, 96% of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts—which means leadership teams are often imbalanced and do not fairly represent a diverse workforce. It becomes all the more important, then, to be purposeful when choosing your innovation project team members.
- Create a safe environment. When encouraged, introverts can become extroverted. In a supportive and open team atmosphere, introverts are more likely to share their ideas. Ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and “safe” with their team means that you’re more likely to hear from the quieter members of the group — especially important during the idea generation phases.
- Make writing just as important as speaking. In Innovation Engineering projects, writing is strongly encouraged. In fact, everything is documented by the participants. For example, during a Create session (designed to maximize idea generation), team members use Yellow Cards to outline and flush out their idea more fully. While some participants will read their Yellow Cards out to the rest of team, others may choose not to. Regardless, each idea is captured on a Yellow Card, all of which are collected during the session and available for all team members to read. This means that ideas aren’t silenced because of a fear of public speaking.
- Make sure everyone has a responsibility. During the rapid cycles of learning phase of the Innovation Engineering process, the team meets weekly to test, build, and sometimes kill ideas. At those meetings, team members are assigned pieces to work on (for example, I might be responsible for researching popular coffee brewing methods if our team is trying to learn more about worldwide coffee consumption). Before the next meeting, I’m responsible for doing my research and entering the information into the online project portal. And at the meeting itself, I share my findings with the team. By assigning specific tasks, team members assume ownership and become the “expert” on that particular piece. Reporting back to the team at the weekly meeting is not a presentation; it’s the sharing of information, which makes all the difference to an introvert.
While introverts may be the quieter members of your innovation team, their contributions can speak volumes. Starting with as diverse a team as possible, creating a safe environment for sharing, valuing writing as much as talking, and making every team member accountable means better ideas, a more productive team, and in the end, more meaningfully unique innovations. Results like that are something to cheer about (quietly, please).