How to harvest the best ideas from your team.

One of the challenges of working with a team of bright, creative people full of ideas, is that they are bright, creative, and full of ideas.

I learned long ago working in engineering that if you wanted to find out where the pain points of a process were, you would go straight to the people working on the front lines.  Each and every person knew one or two things that were simple, but would make the overall process much more efficient.  Many times they just weren't asked for their opinion, or in other cases there was no value or reward in sharing because of a lack of trust in the work environment (but that's for another posting).

Once your team has your trust and know you value their ideas, the problem becomes one of volume.  There are a lot of ideas, but not all of them are productive.

Some are just fun (e.g. buy Nerf guns for everyone) but aren't useable in the sense that they don't help your organization achieve something it couldn't do before, or save significant resources that could be applied to other areas (i.e. research and development) or differentiate your organization from your competitors.

Others sound good at first, but would derail critical projects, or (and this is the important part) take more effort to develop and implement than it would ultimately save.  If the value of the idea is not greater than the effort, thank them and move on.

In a former life I had a team of developers working for me, and they had lots of ideas.  For each and every time they came into my office with their idea, we would have the discussion of value over effort.  I finally wrote the following equation on my whiteboard:

V/E > 1
(Value / Effort must be greater than 1X the Effort)

What happened next was fascinating.  Programmers would come into the office, glance at the whiteboard, pause, then turn and leave without saying a word.  Other times they would come in and present their idea, which had great merit.

My team still had a voice, but inserting this filter into the conversation allowed for much better discussions.

How do you sort through the avalanche of ideas from your team?  You ARE soliciting your team for ideas, aren't you?

Kevin Pashuk is a long time technology executive working to Turn Technology Invisible - the way it should be in the 21st Century. 


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