Who is doing innovation right and what can I learn from them?

What’s the chief ingredient of an innovative company culture? Empathy.

Focusing on an open and empathetic culture has been central to Microsoft’s growth as a leader of innovation in the enterprise. Though the company has thousands of employees around the world, it’s put deliberate steps in place to create an agile, creative, and collaborative work environment that fosters new product innovation. Rather than keep each team siloed from one another, the company works to bring together different teams and even external collaborators to gain new perspectives and foster new ways of thinking about how to overcome challenges.

For example, Microsoft holds an annual hackathon, in which thousands of engineering employees from Microsoft and their customer companies are all encouraged to build cross-departmental or cross-company teams to partner on new technical challenges, bringing their own particular expertise and their empathy to the table. It’s resulted in innovative products focused on providing better user experiences for users with disabilities, like SeeingAI, a tool that provides assistance for users with visual impairments, and a OneNote add-on for users with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. By working with a diverse pool of collaborators, developers had the opportunity to look at the unique needs of specific users, and build for those.

But it can be difficult to maintain a free-flowing, empathy-focused collaboration across teams outside of a large event like a hackathon. So how can you keep the momentum going within the day-to-day workplace?

Microsoft’s approach is to use a centralized knowledge-sharing platform, Stack Overflow for Teams, where its 50,000+ developers across the entire organization can go to ask questions, share information, and take part in discussions around different products, technologies, and ideas to inform their work. By using this type of platform, all of Microsoft’s valuable company knowledge is available to all employees to provide inspiration and inform their product development process. Teams can draw from other disciplines’ best practices, or gather critical feedback that showcases other perspectives for addressing an issue in product development.

By making knowledge seeking and sharing across departments a key part of Microsoft’s work culture, the company’s been able to build an intuitive, agile collaboration process that gives every team member the tools and insights to do their best, and most empathetic, work. Read more about how they did it here or watch the 3-minute video here.

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