Category Archives: Innovation

Seek out diverse perspectives

diverse perspectives 2Seeking out diverse perspectives can give leaders an important edge in today’s world. Whether embarking on a enterprise-wide initiative or making decisions that will impact a unit, institution, or community, diverse perspectives can give us the information we need to be more effective. They can keep us honest, keep us from moving into groupthink, and provide a resource to sharpen our thinking and lead to innovative solutions. As leaders, we can truly benefit from a diversity of perspectives!

So how can we as leaders seek out diverse perspectives? Here are a few ideas from the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. They advise leaders to:

  • Encourage contributions from everyone and give voice to individuals and constituencies not in the room. Those in the room may need to represent stakeholders who are not present.
  • Acknowledge the impact of power and privilege on who speaks and who listens in groups. Be mindful of the status that is accorded to a person because of her or his position, race, ethnicity, economic class background, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ability/disability, education, expertise, and/or profession.
  • Practice respect for others. Listen deeply. Acknowledge and accept difference of opinions. Discern when to voice differences and when to hold them lightly.
  • Appreciate the constructive value of conflict. While conflict can feel hard or uncomfortable, helping a group move through conflict can result in better outcomes for everyone. Learn to tolerate and work through it, rather than smooth it over or ignore it.

Think of a group you lead that has some diversity. Consider who speaks in the group. Who has the most “air-time?” Is everyone heard? In your leadership role, how can you enable every participant to contribute fully?

Anita Rios

Snow storms, bumper cars and highly effective teams?

Best of 2015, first published on February 15, 2015
We just had our first “biggest blizzard in years” yesterday. While it ended up with a modest total amount of snow it did create traffic snarls and many accidents for those working this week. I had the luxury of time off and was able to enjoy the beauty of the snow falling and look forward to skiing. That reminded me of this post that highlighted the value of messiness and collisions! Enjoy.  –Todd Thorsgaard

 

jeopardy

And the answer is?? Planned accidental collisions!

We had a freezing rain and snow “event” yesterday and cars were slipping and sliding into each other by the hundreds. Not a pretty sight but actually a great metaphor for building effective teams. In fact both urban planners and highly successful leaders have been promoting the idea that density and unplanned interactions, or “collisions” can spark creativity and help build an engaged culture at work.

The main idea is that “running” into other people, sharing ideas, asking questions, and listening to what they are working on stimulates our brains and opens us up to more possibilities.

Leaders can make changes in the physical work space and the processes a team uses to facilitate these creative accidental collisions. The department I work in has created an informal work space. Several times while I was using it a colleague has ask me what I was working on and then shared some ideas I had not thought of.

Other ideas you can try to foster “accidental collisions” include:

  • scheduling work and share times where people talk about their projects and others are encouraged to share ideas
  • rotating project team members on a regular basis
  • encouraging people to participate in cross-functional projects
  • inviting representatives from other departments to participate on project teams
  • support participation in professional organizations and interest groups

Creating safe opportunities for people and ideas to collide will help your team succeed over the long run, and they will have more fun!  bumper cars

Todd Thorsgaar

Snow storms, bumper cars and highly effective teams?

jeopardyAnd the answer is?? Planned accidental collisions!

We had a freezing rain and snow “event” yesterday and cars were slipping and sliding into each other by the hundreds. Not a pretty sight but actually a great metaphor for building effective teams. In fact both urban planners and highly successful leaders have been promoting the idea that density and unplanned interactions, or “collisions” can spark creativity and help build an engaged culture at work.

The main idea is that “running” into other people, sharing ideas, asking questions, and listening to what they are working on stimulates our brains and opens us up to more possibilities.

Leaders can make changes in the physical work space and the processes a team uses to facilitate these creative accidental collisions. The department I work in has created an informal work space. Several times while I was using it a colleague has ask me what I was working on and then shared some ideas I had not thought of.

Other ideas you can try to foster “accidental collisions” include:

  • scheduling work and share times where people talk about their projects and others are encouraged to share ideas
  • rotating project team members on a regular basis
  • encouraging people to participate in cross-functional projects
  • inviting representatives from other departments to participate on project teams
  • support participation in professional organizations and interest groups

Creating safe opportunities for people and ideas to collide will help your team succeed over the long run, and they will have more fun!  bumper cars

Todd Thorsgaard

Watering the change garden

In his book Leading Change, John P. Kotter tells a compelling story about a failed change effort. The organization had done all the early steps right and was seeing benefits from the change. Everything was going well.  But then the leaders made a fatal mistake – they forgot to reinforce the new normal. As Kotter described it:

watering3 free to useLittle effort was made to help the new practices grow deep roots, ones that sank down into the core culture or were strong enough to replace it. Shallow roots require constant watering. As long as change agents were there daily with the garden hose, all was well. Without that attention, the practices dried up, withered, and died. Other greenery that had been cut back, but that had deeper roots, took over.

When we’re leading change, we need to think like gardeners. What kind of food and water does the new normal need to grow strong and healthy? Who is watering the change now, and what happens when they are done? What old greenery has the potential to grow back like a weed?

Kotter suggests some steps leaders can take to help reinforce the new normal and discourage the old patterns from reappearing.

  1. Talk frequently about the evidence showing that the new practices are linked to desired outcomes.
  2. Talk frequently about why the old culture existed, why it was needed, and how it is no longer helpful.
  3. Make sure the people in leadership positions are willing and able to support the new culture.
  4. Make sure that new hires are not being informally screened according to the old norms and values.

watering1 free to useCultural issues are often hidden and difficult to change. Just as tending a garden takes time and effort, reinforcing change is an ongoing process. What suggestions do you have for tending the change garden?

–Dee Anne Bonebright

Failure and success

A key strategy for leading change is to empower others to take initiative to support an organization’s change vision and goals. And one of the most important ways a leader can accomplish this is by creating a climate where it is safe to make mistakes.

As we all know, one of the side effects of innovation is failure. You can’t be part of major change efforts without taking risks, and not all risks work out. How we as leaders deal with failure is critical to creating an environment that fosters innovation.

failure free to useThere’s a new trend among some creative companies – the “Heroic Failure Award.”  This award is given an honored place along with the more typical recognition for success. The Wall Street Journal quoted an executive from one of these companies who believed that “if employees try something that was worth trying and fail, and if they are open about it, and if they learn from that failure, that is a good thing.” (Read the article here.)

A contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog made the case for failure even more strongly in a post on “Why I Hire People Who Fail“:

We don’t just encourage risk taking at our offices: we demand failure. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re probably not advancing. Mistakes are the predecessors to both innovation and success, so it is important to celebrate mistakes as a central component of any culture.

Most of us have a hard time celebrating failure – our own or others’. This mindset may be holding us back from creating the kind of new and innovative solutions we need to address tomorrow’s challenges.

Can you identify a time when you tried something new, failed, and learned from it?

How do you typically respond to employees or colleagues who have failed?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Resolutions

Happy Newnew-years-resolution-for-site Year! It is good to be back blogging and taking part in this dialogue with you.

As Anita described, we are looking forward to a lively, back and forth, conversation focused on leading change in higher education. Change is a fact of life. No one can avoid change or stop it, but as leaders, you have the opportunity to take action and lead purposeful change that will make a difference for the students you serve and improve your institution’s viability. Your people also look to you to support them through the changes that are occurring on your campuses. Leading change is like a New Year’s resolution! It makes perfect sense yet can be so hard to keep.

The author and businessman, Harvey Mackay, has a few suggestions to help leaders keep their resolutions. In a recent column he encourages leaders to pick just one or two resolutions and to skip the boring ones. Pick one that excites you and will energize you.  I know that the need for new levels of collaboration that  Charting the Future highlights for MnSCU energizes me and will drive my “resolution” for 2014. To facilitate change  I will be reaching out to a wider set of stakeholders and actively seeking ideas that challenge my assumptions. 

What excites you at your institution and how can you use that energy to “keep” your leading change resolution?

Todd Thorsgaard

Leading with powerful questions

questions1In my last post, I talked about the importance of asking good questions. This can seem obvious, but I’ve found it to be very difficult in practice.  As leaders, it’s easy to believe that we are asking thought-provoking questions, while in reality others see them differently.  How often have you heard people say “He asked for our opinion, but I know the decision was already made.”

Asking powerful questions is one of the most effective ways to involve stakeholders in decisions that affect them, and to increase buy-in to the decision once it’s made. As I’ve been learning more about the art of asking questions, a colleague shared an excellent resource created by the World Cafe and Pegasus Communications: The Art of Powerful Questions. I highly recommend the entire article.  As a sample, here are some questions they recommend to help leaders frame questions that will generate productive dialogue:

  • Is this question relevant to the team’s goals?
  • Do I genuinely not know the answer?
  • What do I want to happen as a result of the question?
  • Is the question likely to generate new trains of thought or new directions?
  • Is this question likely to generate creative action?
  • Is it likely to generate more questions?

As I prepare to lead meetings, I’ve been challenging myself to be intentional about the questions I’ll ask. It really makes a difference in what I bring to the table and in the outcomes that are generated.

Einstein is supposed to have said that if he had only one hour to solve a life-threatening problem, he’d spend the first 55 minutes forming the right question, because then the problem could be solved in the remaining 5 minutes. How much time do you typically spend forming the right question?

–Dee Anne Bonebright