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  • Writer's pictureDave Matthews

Keeping the spark alive: Injecting fresh ideas into an established development team

Just the other day I had a routine catch-up with an engineering manager who manages a medium sized development team within a market leading SaaS vendor.  We were exploring some ideas and discussing some common challenges facing development teams. During the conversation, one statement stood out to me, and I immediately made note of it: 

"We have a stable team who have been together for 5+ years. They're smart, performing well and have established solid working relationships with the broader business, but we want to inject some fresh thinking into what we're doing and how we're approaching our delivery practices." 

Loyalty, experience, and stability are cornerstones of success for any team. But after five years working together, even the most dynamic group can fall into a groove, with familiar patterns of thought and established approaches. This isn't necessarily a sign of decline, it's more of a natural evolution. Moreover, it's no-one's "fault", but rather a symptom of not having the benefit of external eyes on a problem, or team members who have seen what good and bad looks like elsewhere and can inject that experience into your operation. 

So, as a leader, it's your responsibility to foster innovation and ensure your team continues to bring fresh ideas to the table.

But how do you do this?

I thought I'd share some practical tips on how to bring fresh ideas and inject new perspectives into your team:

1. Embrace Diverse Inputs

Seek External Inspiration: You might do this by organizing industry visits, inviting guest speakers in for lunch & learns or brown-bag sessions, and encouraging participation in industry or technology specific conferences. In doing-so, you expose your team to different ideas, tools, and challenges faced by others in the field.

Cross-Pollination: It might be time to consider temporary swaps with other teams within your organization. This cross-training fosters knowledge exchange and sparks new ideas from contrasting perspectives. 

Harness Employee Diversity: Create an environment where diverse voices are heard and valued. Encourage team members from different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints to share their unique perspectives through initiatives such as "Ask Us Anything" sessions and open internal Q and A's. It's also a bonus if you can include non-IT stakeholders from the business to these discussions, as it gives them a view into how IT operates and encourages input from a broader audience.

2. Stimulate Creative Thinking

Brainstorming with a Twist: Break out of the traditional brainstorm. You can try techniques like "reverse brainstorming" (identifying potential problems and then brainstorming solutions) or "scamper" (focusing on specific aspects like Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Rearrange).

Challenge Assumptions: Encourage healthy skepticism and question established processes. Creating a safe space for team members to challenge the status quo and propose alternative approaches is key. Embrace the mantra of "no question is a silly question".

Gamify Innovation: Stimulate thinking through introducing some friendly competition within your team! You can do this through running initiatives like internal hackathons or "improvement challenges" focused on specific areas. This has a two-fold effect - adding an element of fun whilst simultaneously encouraging creative problem-solving. Often some of the best ideas for new features for your product can come from these sessions!

3. Prioritize Learning and Growth

Upskilling and Reskilling: If you're not already doing it, invest in training opportunities for your team, focusing on emerging technologies, new methodologies, and industry trends. Try and build a regular cadence or calendar for participation in online courses, conferences and webinars and seek feedback and shared learnings from your team via their experiences when undertaking these types of activities.

Individual Exploration: Allocate time and resources for team members to pursue individual learning interests. This fosters personal growth and can lead to unexpected positive applications within the team's work.

When it all boils down to it, transparent and frequent communication ultimately builds trust and strengthens team buy-in. If you are able to clearly articulate the need for new ideas and celebrate successful implementations, you can start to create a culture of open and constructive feedback and encourage team members to provide and receive feedback without fear of judgement. Your team shouldn't be afraid of failures - if we don't fail, we don't learn. Encourage calculated risks and experimentation, recognizing that some new ideas may not lead to immediate success, but could pave the way for future breakthroughs.

By actively fostering a culture of continuous learning, embracing diverse perspectives, and stimulating creative thinking, you can keep your long-standing team brimming with fresh ideas and ensure they remain a at the forefront of innovation for years to come. By consistently implementing these strategies, you can help your team stay ahead of the curve and continue delivering exceptional results.


About me: I'm Dave Matthews and I help CIO's, CTO's and Engineering Managers Deliver Software 👋





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