Innovation and communication are two intertwined concepts. Innovation cannot happen without communication. Communication without innovation would be severely impaired. Just think of all the technological innovations that led to the communication means we use today. From letters and the telegraph to mobile phones and the internet.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the tight relationship between team communication and innovation. We’ll also be taking a close look at how communication influences single stage of innovation.
The role of communication in the process of innovation
Have you noticed that in the recent history large companies have rarely come up with something innovative? It’s usually startups that disrupt the industry with innovative products and ideas. As companies grow bigger, innovation becomes less of a priority.
Innovation affects all sides of a business, and communicating its true value can be quite difficult. Sometimes the effects of innovation cannot be seen immediately, which makes it harder to acknowledge the value in it. Case in point – the Post-it, inventend by 3M specialist Dr. Spencer Silver, who was in fact trying to develop a stronger adhesive.
The ROI, the criteria most commonly used to measure the efficiency of a project, cannot actually cover the true business value of innovation. Most often, people talk about innovative projects in terms of promises, risks and opportunities. This makes communication – especially to stakeholders – even more difficult.
Be that as it may, innovation projects must be valued and supported inside the company. Externally, they need to be seen as useful and appealing. Poor communication comes with high costs in terms of resources and productivity. And communicating the value of innovation at various hierarchical levels can be a challenging endeavor. Even when senior execs manage to do that, the consistency of the message across vertical lines hardly remains intact. What’s more, it gets even harder for employees to understand the necessity of their engagement throughout the different phases of innovation.
So, let’s explore the importance of team communication in all the four stages of the innovation process. We’ll use this context to analyze what communication strategies you could implement throughout the process. Read further for detailed explanations.
How team communication impacts innovation
Communication in general and team communication in particular play a crucial role in all innovation stages. Let’s go through each stage at the time and see what strategies you can apply along the way.
1st stage of innovation – idea generation
The first step in any innovation process is coming up with new ideas. Team communication is of uttermost importance here. It’s important to create channels so that team members can easily exchange them. When communication channels are available, everyone gains access to information and feels safe to share and discuss new ideas. Encourage people to leave the comfort zone and give up conventional ways of thinking.
Implementation strategy: Create an “ideas team” and establish a communication platform – such as a dedicated group in your team collaboration app. Encourage all employees to contribute with personal opinions.
Some companies go as far as creating channels of communication where customers can come up with new ideas and suggestions. At this point, you should take into consideration all ideas, no matter how far-fetched they might seem.
2nd stage of innovation – idea screening
This is when your team should screen and filter the ideas gathered during the first stage. Basically, it’s the stage of screening for feasible ideas. This is when team communication becomes essential. You should refine rough ideas in brainstorming sessions, and the whole team should lend a hand to cut a diamond out of a rough stone.
Oftentimes, those who come up with great ideas are not the best communicators. That’s why the best ideas should be advocated for by different members of the team. Advocates should be able to communicate such ideas to a broader audience and convince upper management and others that they’re worth pursuing.
Implementation strategy: Create a clear process for idea screening. Select ideas based on their potential for innovation and for achieving the goals of your company. Most innovative companies use peer screening.
Google, for example, encourages employees to share ideas through emails and suggestion boxes. Then they make them publicly available and allow people to rate and review them. Ideas with the higher ratings are clearly worth to be considered more seriously.
3rd stage of innovation – experimentation
This is when you test and evaluate ideas that made it through the screening process. You can create prototypes, test marketing response, assess manufacturing capabilities, etc. All such activities require detailed planning. So, your team should be able to communicate and collaborate at its best.
Team decisions can sometimes be hard to make, especially if you don’t have a proven system to rely on. Other than that, things can no longer remain at the level of the team or the company. You need to pitch ideas to stakeholders, make demos and presentations to suppliers and manufacturers, and other third-parties.
Your team of advocates should know how to communicate the benefits. At the same time, they should be able to maintain a healthy distance lest they should get attached and miss the red flags. They need to stay alert and assess the chances of success. Once tested, the idea returns to the screening phase, where the team needs to decide whether it’s worth implementing or not.
Implementation strategy: Encourage collaborative experimentation. Make prototypes available to employees and other stakeholders. Give them time to test the product. Set a deadline to gather feedback on how you can improve the product. Ask the implementation team to communicate with their peers and get first-hand feedback.
4th stage of innovation – commercialization
This is the last and the most complicated phase of an innovation project, particularly at the level of communication. This is when your idea, now a product, reaches the public.
Team communication is crucial here. The product team needs to help the marketing team understand and learn everything about the product. The marketing people are the ones who educate the public, explaining the utility of your innovative product. The customer service team needs training in the way they communicate with and attend to customers. The technical team might need to fix bugs and other issues, and so on.
There’s a lot of communication during this stage, and the success or failure of your project depends on it.
Implementation strategy: Create innovative channels of communication. Because communication matters inside and between teams. Create social hubs, where members from different teams can shared ideas and find solutions together in a relaxed atmosphere.
Creating meaningful relationships at work makes employees happier and more effective. When happy, they’re more likely to collaborate and come up with innovative ideas.
In short, each stage of the innovation process comes with different communication needs that you should consider and pursue. Each stage entails its own challenges, and most of them can be anticipated and solved through innovative solutions.
Effective team communication is crucial every step of the way, since it’s the engine that keeps the wheels spinning. Encourage your teams to collaborate, offer them several communication solutions, and try to support them in taking decisions. Last but not least, allow them to make mistakes and learn from failure whenever it occurs.