How Innovation Helps Groups Improve Workflow Approaches

Dr. Susan Cain Innovation, Management, Professional Development, Training & Development, Training and Development Leave a Comment

cli_blog_logoI stood in the training room of one of my favorite clients, hoping to introduce the 30 associates to a word that did not describe their present level of performance. That word was innovation. I was there to hold a two-hour rapid learning session, to awaken the group to the value of using innovation at every level of their small company.

I learned from my business school textbooks that there are three levels of innovation: incremental, radical and semi-radical. You can employ incremental innovation to tweak a current situation, use a semi-radical approach to increase the level of change or go all out and create something completely different with a radical approach.

As a young facilitator many years ago, I was lucky enough to work with the families who owned Amway, and I facilitated the conversation they had to debate their future. At the time, the families involved were trying to decide how Amway should change.

One of them wondered out loud something that has stayed with me. She said, “I just don’t know if we should put earrings on the pig or build an ark.” I asked her what she meant by that, and she responded, “Well, we could keep the current business we have and just change it slightly, you know, put earrings on the pig. Or, we could build something completely different, you know, an ark, and sail away.”

I thought that was brilliant. A great example of the textbook lesson applied to real life.

Back in my session, we were busy diagramming the workflow processes of the team. They wanted to improve the delivery processes on projects they shared. I was amazed that with a little definition on innovation how quickly the group members picked up on where to apply small changes, and where a process just made no sense and had to be completely changed.

The session concluded with the group’s re-creation of their entire project workflow map and we walked away with a larger gain than any of us could have imagined.

Here are my recommended steps for facilitating a successful workflow innovation session:

  1. Start with an icebreaker on innovation.
  2. Define the difference between innovation and creativity, define the levels of
  3. Map out the processes of the situation needing change (using software, smart boards or flip chart paper).
  4. Break into small groups to increase dialogue and engagement; ask each group to find potential areas to improve by applying innovation levels.
  5. Merge the groups and determine best practices.
  6. Complete a final workflow map to use going forward.

You can use many options to remap your workflow processes. Aside from Excel there are many different open source, as well as commercial, workflow software options to choose from. Regardless of the mapping process you choose (Excel, software or paper), I like to leave a session suggesting to the group that the new process is intended to be agile, and will change as improvements are discovered along the way.


innovation-and-creativityCLI’s new training workshop, the Innovation and Creativity Skills Workshop, is customized to meet the needs of you organization. The workshop offers ways for participants to understand and apply innovation concepts and to walk away with a work product and job aids for use at work.

CLI designs and facilitates training, coaching and strategy development. Visit our website at or call us at 1.800. 203.6734.

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Dr. Susan CainHow Innovation Helps Groups Improve Workflow Approaches

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