I spent the majority of my career working in and leading large global corporate teams.  Let’s just say, I’m far from a novice when it comes to corporate politics, policies, processes and procedures.  There were rules to follow, guidelines that needed to be adhered to, and there were always people in “power” who had tunnel vision.  Those whose mantra was “Because I said so, and that’s the way we do it.”

I believe in process, for without it we would have mayhem. Process and procedures give us action plans, lets us know who is accountable for what, and what KPIs we need to achieve to be successful. What I don’t believe in is inflexibility and a policy that is set in stone, never to be reviewed, updated, or challenged.

Inflexible leaders, and more importantly leaders who don’t LISTEN – I mean really LISTEN are the downfall of so many companies, teams and the soul of too many team members.  To add in a real-life example, I’ve had clients tell me some stories that make me cringe!

One client told me how the boss bragged that they were able to get a report done while having a meeting with them. Another told me how their boss asked them for their point of view and interrupted them the entire time they were talking to explain why they were wrong and to tell them how it should be done.

This is NOT how you lead, and it surely isn’t how you foster growth and innovation within a company.  The days of pyramid leadership are passed – where the CEO sits at the top and simply dictates his/her way through the day.

Let’s dig deeper – because this topic is vital to a company’s success.

Structure can kill innovation, teams, and often companies.  Here’s how needed rules often turn into deal killers:

  1. Failure to Listen. As noted above, I cringe to think of ideas that have been tossed into the proverbial innovation trash because a team leader refused to listen to ANYTHING that was outside the norm.  Great innovation, invention, and growth comes from testing the status quo, listening to and enacting new ideas that often come from people you wouldn’t necessarily consider an innovator!  Great leaders listen…really listen.  They listen, they review, they process and act.
  2. Reliance on the “Law of the Land”. Going back to structure and process. We need them, but leaders who refuse to assess the validity of current process as it pertains to current times are in fact not great leaders. Rules and regulations are guidelines, they are not commandments etched in stone, they are meant to change with the times.  Innovation is about having new ideas and not really knowing if they will work or not.  You need to be flexible in order to embrace that concept. Bend the rules to try new things, not all will be winners, but some will be game changers.
  3. Sterile Surroundings. I love that so many companies today are tossing out cubicles and embracing collaborative work spaces, remote workers, and anything that promotes open idea sharing and yes, innovative thinking.

So, what’s the solution?  How do you have structure yet allow open communication and innovation?

  1. Have an open door policy and let your team KNOW you will listen. That doesn’t mean every idea will make it to the drawing board, but it does mean you as a leader value their ideas.
  2. The right tools, the right environment. Every employee works differently, learns differently and thinks differently – being flexible to allow everyone to work at peak performance will not only create a culture that is amazing, productivity will soar.
  3. Lead collaborative think tanks versus meetings. Corporate America is well known for meeting after meeting AFTER MEETING!  How does anyone get work done!  In lieu of a meeting where a team leader shouts out action items and to-dos – switch it up to weekly think tank events.  Have everyone come to the meeting with ideas, updates, and make them real working sessions.
  4. As a leader, listen. Put away your phone, put away your laptop and focus on one conversation at a time.  Process the information, give valuable feedback and be inclusive.

The way it’s always been, isn’t the way it necessarily should be.  Is your environment killing innovation?  Is it preventing you from attracting top talent?  A few simple changes can not only affect your culture and team, but ultimately it will affect your bottom line – for the better.