Few things are more fulfilling in modern professional life than feeling as though you’ve had your voice heard, that you’ve momentarily broken through the avalanche of information under which we’re all buried and shared something inspiring and thoughtful enough that your colleagues felt compelled to stop and read, watch or listen.
In recent years, we have observed a trend towards flatter hierarchies in sport where responsibility is more often distributed across individual players (vs. team members relying on one alpha leader).
However, in business life we still seem to live very often in a world where organizational hierarchy almost universally reigns supreme, our individual work output designed, delegated and done to appease specific goals set forth by an often most accomplished, most experienced chain of command. The system works and has been working for a long time.
And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Fix, no. Adapt, yes.
The circumstances to do so have never been more favorable. Lucky for workers of all ages, the onset of today’s digital domain helps to level the playing field. Now more than ever companies are adopting and using progressive platforms and systems to bridge online and offline business and connect their people in a new, seemingly ladderless world.
Eventually it is just a digital tool, an enabler and amplifier for a spirit anyone can apply to his or her own business in many other ways, too.
From my experience, the adidas Group Innovation Academy has especially thrived on its elements of meritocracy.
Online there are no titles – a participant’s profile page displays only their name, their photo and a reflection of their contribution to the community by way of an “innovator score”.
Participation has been purely voluntary, and behavior including completion of weekly exercises and assignments as well as contributing discussion increases a user’s score online.
This sort of meritocracy succeeds for a number of reasons, most notably in giving each employee a voice and an equal opportunity to consume the content as well as interact with colleagues irrespective of their title or “power”, if you will.
The theory, then, is to eliminate assumptions about participation – e.g. I should blindly tell the company’s Vice President I love his/her ideas – and let each person instead discover what content and which people they find most interesting, engaging and compelling and interact as genuinely as possible.
Along with generating thousands of new ideas and hosting equally as many rich, dynamic conversations around the adidas Group business, the Academy is serving double time as an incredibly important tool for professional development.
Participation takes focus, time and energy, yes, but it has also inspired heightened levels of creativity and self-confidence as well as fostered a connected community of people who believe deeply in the notion they have a voice worth sharing on subjects near and far beyond the bounds of their everyday work.
Perhaps more importantly, they can relish in belonging to an organizational culture in which their colleagues are being newly empowered and encouraged to learn and listen all the time. The more we listen, the more we change what’s possible together.
Summarizing my experience with the adidas Group Innovation Academy, here are some tips for you to enable an innovative spirit in your team:
- Put ideas and collaboration above organizational hierarchies. Give each team member a voice and an equal opportunity to participate.
- Be open and listen carefully to ideas – wherever they come from. Sometimes areas which seem to be much unrelated to your challenge at first glance can become a unique source of inspiration.
- Help to connect your people and encourage them to do the same. Experts shouldn’t just talk to other experts.
- Proactively drive a culture of innovation but keep participation voluntary.