Workers often find themselves too bound by deadlines and project expectations to have time to collaborate on cool, interesting, but less "high priority" ideas. Set aside a week to have engineers, designers, product managers, legal, business development, sales and others collaborate on fun or provocative ideas and present them at a company-wide demo day soon after.
In many organizations, especially in today's competitive market for top talent, resources are the most difficult constraint on getting projects done. As a result, project prioritization becomes essential and becomes a key measure of how well management is coordinating employees and aligning resources with strategy.
Unfortunately, lean organizations, executing at a high degree on the highest priority tasks, can also suffer from long-term neglect of interesting and ground breaking ideas. In a changing competitive environment, many disruptive developments come from small groups of motivated participants choosing to collaborate on unique, exciting, high-risk and high-reward projects.
1) Plan and promote an organization-wide week centered around Innovation. Coordinate with project and other managers, so that time is built into existing schedules for employees to not work on existing projects for that week.
2) Before the week occurs, use internal tools and email lists to crowdsource ideas for the week. Encourage staff to comment and rate ideas but ensure that feedback is given and received without regards to hierarchy.
3) Encourage groups to form organically to work on proposed projects, sometimes nudging coworkers to break out of defined boundaries in their day-to-day work and pursue related interests and topics.
4) During the week itself, have a means to track and report progress daily, and have teams hold "office hours" to help projects get over roadblocks quickly. These roadblocks can be advice on design, scalability or other issues.
5) Arrange for the physical space where teams work to be unique and collaborative for the week, including breaking down cubicles or setting aside time to work outside of the office (Starbucks work spaces.)
6) After the week is over, have a "demo day" where teams are encouraged to present their work-in-progress from the week. Solicit open and constructive feedback.
7) Given the work-in-progress and the feedback, identify the additional resources needed an obstacles to bringing each project to fruition. Ensure there is a management "owner" for each project who will help shepherd that project to completion, and arrange for time from all the stakeholders to make that a reality.
The innovation week lets employees approach idea from the "guys in a garage" level while still leveraging the resources of a large company. Sometimes this change in perspective for a week can have an impact beyond just the projects created during the week - it can encourage employees to inculcate projects the rest of the quarter and year and find willing co-conspirators to make that happen.
The projects themselves are the immediate impact of the week, but the visibility given to the teams involved, the talents they contributed to the projects, and the story of how they were able to come together and deliver (in a short timeframe without a great deal of coordination overhead) will hopefully product a more long-lasting impact on attitudes.
To start, solicit ideas for projects folks "would like to see but don't have time for". Ask people to imagine what they would do if they did have time to work on those projects, and who their "dream team" of collaborators would be.
Google employees and managers in the US and Zurich