Building a Culture of Innovation: Leadership Strategies for Forward-Thinking Teams

By Deanna deBara | Published April 2, 2024

A huge part of building a successful company is to be able to innovate continually—and it’s becoming a serious priority for companies that want to increase their success in the coming years.

For example, according to recent data from market research resource Gitnux, 60% of businesses view innovation as a key driver for profitable growth. 84% of executives agree that innovation is important for their company's growth strategy—and 65% of large companies will increase their investment in innovation in the next three years.

But innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; if you want to innovate, you must create a company culture supporting that innovation.

So how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at three strategies leaders can use to make innovation a key element of their company culture—and drive more innovation and success as a result:

Do a culture audit

Before you can build any new culture within your organization, it’s important to take stock of the current culture and figure out what needs to change.

During a culture audit, leaders survey their employees for their experience of the company culture as a way to understand whether the stated company culture is aligned with the actual culture, to identify what’s working—and not working—about the current culture, and to figure out what needs to change in order to build a new culture (in this case, a culture of innovation).

Create a survey and ask your team for their thoughts and insights into your current company culture. What do they like about the culture? What do they feel is challenging? In what ways does the company culture live up to the culture picture leadership paints during the interview process—and in what ways does it fall short?

Getting a handle on how your current culture functions—and how your employees experience it—will give you invaluable insights on what needs to change in order to build a more forward-thinking culture within your organization. For example, during a culture audit, you might get feedback that your employees feel micromanaged—and that constant micromanagement is preventing them from sharing their ideas, which is a key for innovation. Or your team might report that the culture doesn’t feel inclusive or psychologically safe for women—a problem that needs to be addressed before you worry about fostering more innovation.

The point is, before you build a culture of innovation, you need to understand how your current culture operates and what you need to change to be more innovative—and a culture audit is a great way to do so.

Encourage all ideas

Innovation comes from new ideas and challenging the status quo. But for every good idea that leads to major innovation, there are multiple ideas that are, for lack of another word, bad—and won’t go anywhere.

But if employees are scared or discouraged from sharing their bad ideas, you’ll never get to the good ones—which is why creating a culture that fosters and supports all ideas is a must.

Make embracing all ideas a foundational part of your culture. Let team members know that all ideas are welcome, no matter how big, small, or far-fetched. You could go even further and encourage team members to come up with bad ideas—for example, by hosting “bad idea brainstorms,” where employees have a time frame (for example, 15 minutes) to come up with as many bad ideas or solutions to a problem as possible (which productivity expert and author James Altucher credits as being a key part of becoming an idea machine and generating new, innovative ideas).

But in order for this to work, you need to really show employees that all ideas are welcome. Praise team members when they speak up and share ideas—even if those ideas don’t go anywhere. Give employees time and space during the day to just think. Create opportunities for employees to share their best ideas with their team, leadership, and the company as a whole (for example, during stand-up or all-hands meetings). 

The more you encourage employees to share their ideas—good or bad—the more ideas you’ll have to work with. And the more ideas you have to work with? The more likely one of those ideas will lead to serious innovation.

Create interesting and unexpected teams

Organizations often operate in silos; people from marketing work with people from marketing, people in accounting work with people in accounting, and so on and so forth—and employees from different teams and departments rarely have an opportunity to work together.

But when employees are only interacting with team members with the same backgrounds, skills, and experience, chances are, they’ll generate the same ideas.

So, if you want to build an innovative culture? Mix things up—and create diverse teams with people who wouldn’t normally work together.

When you create a diverse team, you’re bringing together people with different ways of thinking and working. And those different ways of thinking and working can merge to come up with truly interesting, different, and innovative ideas and solutions to problems.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to market your new product. If you only put your marketing team on the job, they could get stuck in the way they’ve marketed products in the past. But if you bring in people from other teams, they can offer new perspectives and insights into what’s great and valuable about the product, how they’re using the product, and how to position it to potential new customers—which, in turn, can help your marketing team come up with a more innovative marketing strategy.

Bottom line? When you bring employees with different ways of thinking, working, and solving problems, they’re going to collectively come up with interesting, innovative ideas that they likely would not have thought of on their own. So if you want to innovate, think about interesting, unexpected ways to build teams, committees, or initiatives within your organization.

Productivity Points  

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at