I have facilitated Lion’s Den, with great success, in my consulting practice. I apply it as a session to spark innovation among all employees, regardless of their role or position within an organization. My premise is that everyone, in all departments: accounting, sales, marketing, manufacturing, engineering, human resources, operations, distribution, and so on; have great ideas. Given the right forum for exposure, these ideas can take shape and receive leadership support to move forward and eventually develop into new or improved products, services, processes, structures that will benefit the organization.
Getting through the Lion’s Den
The Lion’s Den sets the scene for all employees to start thinking about innovation and working on ideas that will have an impact on them, the organization and/or the customer. This can include: new processes, new services, new products, new markets, new efficiencies and so on.
The symbolic meaning of lions, as one might imagine, primarily deals with strength. “Lions” symbolize bravery, leadership, being a champion, conqueror, fighter, hero and warrior. I believe all of these are characteristics of an innovator. A “lion’s den” is potentially a trap that can lead to an unpleasant situation in which a person or group of people criticizes you or your ideas. But just like the biblical story of Daniel, who was cast into a lion’s den by the king, the outcome of Daniel’s survival and ultimate deliverance, was that he was raised to higher office by his royal master. So the outcome of getting through the “lion’s den” for employees who manage it, has a similar possibility.
This global organization has over 1,000 employees spread across several locations in North America. The Lion’s Den meeting we organized was held off site and we started in one location in North America. Since it was impossible to have everyone in all locations attend, we decided to hold the first Lion’s Den session as 3-day off-site event for 144 employees. The employees were to be divided into 24 teams of 6 employees per team.
We created guidelines to help select the candidates for this first Lion’s Den and forwarded them to all the employees. The guidelines were:
- Do you have any ideas that will solve a major problem, customer issue or process challenge?
- Do you have ideas for new and/or improved products or services?
- Have you been with the organization for at least 2 years?
- How comfortable are you with the idea of working in a diverse team of individuals?
- How willing are you to spend 3 days away from your daily work?
These were certainly broad guidelines. But our intent was to demonstrate that everyone could participate and we were looking to see who would come forward and submit a nomination to participate. As it turned out, we received 400 submissions. We sorted them by department and position and then arranged them to have a diverse group of people. We finally selected 144 names of nominees from various departments and positions. This was only the first Lion’s Den, so those who were not being included in the initial session were still eligible to attend a future session.
Day 1 – Understand and Start the Innovation Process
All the employees were seated in the conference room, waiting to hear what this is all about. The CEO addressed the group first. He set the stage for innovative thinking. He emphasized that no barriers should be placed on the innovations. Time, money, resources and other perceived barriers are just challenges that we must overcome. The cost-benefit of each innovation is what will prevail. He encouraged risk taking. He stressed the need for collaboration in all teams.
I spent the rest of the morning with them. We started with the agenda for the 3 days. Day 1 is broken into a morning and an afternoon session. The morning was spent on learning the innovation process. Everyone had templates to help them apply each one of the innovation process stages.
The employees were told that their ideas must solve a current problem and have a clear value proposition. All ideas must fit with the organization’s key strategic imperatives as well as its values and principles. They must all recognize that everyone can be involved in innovation because it is more than just about products. It is also about services, structures, processes and so on.
To get innovative ideas going, questions were posed to the employees such as: “What is impossible to do in our business, in your job and/or in your department today, but if it can be done, will fundamentally change what our business does, what you can do and so on?” That is where innovation will begin.
Then we broke the group into 24 teams of 6 individuals each. Each team included a mix of departments and positions. This would ensure a good mix of technical and creative individuals on each team. Each team was asked to pick their innovation team leader.
Once created, each team set their own ground rules for working together. Then they spent the afternoon generating ideas and applying the innovation process to their ideas.