How to Keep your Teams Innovative

ping pongEver find that in today’s world, where information is at the tips of your fingers, there is no such thing as a new idea, only adaptations?

Well, if that’s true, how are we supposed to keep our teams innovative and our companies fresh?

As it turns our, keeping a bit of a start up mentality could be the trick.

EventMobi is an event technology platform that helps all varieties of event planners be successful.  Bob & Bijan Vaez, EventMobi’s Co-Founders started the company in 2009 and since then it has grown exponentially and has continued to stay top of it’s game.

Bijan, who is also the CTO of EventMobi and heads the engineering, product and design teams, gave AceTech Ontario a little insight as to how they continue to stay innovative.

One of the key pieces is how you identify responsibilities. “You need to create very loose boundaries where people are comfortable flexing in and out. You do not want to create a rigid box for employees where if they need to step outside of it, they pass the buck and say ‘sorry, this is not my responsibility’,” says Bijan, “but if you create it too soft, they never really know what their job is”. Improperly clarifying responsibilities also becomes a problem for performance discussions when employees do not know what their job functions are day to day.

One way EventMobi enables this, is by setting up a team structure as mini-startups within the department. Each team is setup with the resources of a small start. A dedicated product manager (think mini CEO), designer, tech lead (mini CTO) & 3-5 crossfunctional engineers. The idea behind this is that in start ups, everyone has their expertise, but no one in a start up says “these are my boundaries of what I do and these are the only things I do”. The mission is clear in a small team, they have accountability to each other, they are autonomous and they can choose the best processes for them to move fast & be as innovative as they can be. “We try to create the groups as small as we can so that they can all feel like part of the team and they all know what their mission is,” says Bijan, “they all bring their expertise together and do the work together.  It has given them a lot of experience and exposure outside of what they normally would do day to day and they really thrive in that environment.”

Another way EventMobi feeds their innovation cycle is by letting their employee’s passions be their driving force for work. To avoid keeping people in a box and keeping that start up mentality, EventMobi has established functional groups outside of their normally cross-functional teams, focused around major areas of innovation (i.e. design thinking, devops, javascript architecture, etc), known as “Chapters”.  They are monthly or bi-weekly meetings & workshops attended by at least one person from each team, and led by the most passionate employees in that subject matter. These are individuals that have such deep passion around the subject matter where they will be spending time continuously learning and pursuing this knowledge outside of work hours for their own personal enjoyment. EventMobi nurtures the drive of these employees into innovation by appointing these individuals as Chapter Leads. These completely functional and likely not work related discussions facilitate knowledge sharing, excitement around innovation, and allows for a centralized way to push innovation into many teams. Each team member is able to go back to their team and apply the ideas brought forth in these meetings, and utilize the help of the Chapter Lead if needed to better deploy these ideas & practices. “Even though everyone is working on their day to day”, says Bijan, “Now we are getting a slew of new innovative ideas around new technology, new tools, new way of thinking about things and challenging the status quo continuously. Best of all we’re not trying to force this and using our employees passions to drive that.”

Lastly, we all know start ups have certain cultural traditions. As companies grow, some of the traditions are not kept, but a Ping-Pong or foosball table, for example, usually sticks around unused for symbolic reasons. At EventMobi, a focus is put on the culture of allowing employees to creatively go about their problem solving. You will often find Ping-Pong, lego or video game rooms being used as a way to conduct informal 1-on-1s or as a way for team members to share and talk through ideas. They have found this is a great way for employees to keep their creative juices flowing and work through any roadblocks, “I’ve seen two engineers sit there and chat through a problem while killing zombies,” laughs Bijan.

So, if you are struggling to keep your employees innovative with your technology, try revisiting your start up roots.  It could be the answer you are looking for.

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