The Growth Mindset of Collaboration

Over the last week I have been speaking to a number of organisations across SE Asia around how they can start to realise the value that collaboration can create.   I was outlining my Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate model and helping organisations to plan their collaborative communities using the approach. 

One question kept coming up. The commonest question I was asked was a variant of the following:

How do we encourage our employees to share and try to solve problems when they are afraid to make a mistake?

At the heart of this anxiety is what Carol Dweck of Stanford refers to in her book Mindsets as a fixed mindset. If an employee believes that their ability, status or position is fixed, then they do not want to risk anything that might show themselves as performing below expectations. In a fixed mindset, you avoid testing your inherent capabilities for fear that you will be disappointed. Highly hierarchical organisations encourage a fixed mindset.

Collaboration demands what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. To collaborate, we have to believe that through work and effort we can learn and get better together. Mistakes, embarrassment and other challenges are learning opportunities that are overcome with effort.

Shifting to a Growth Mindset

My answer to the question above came down to a simple recommendation:

Make sure in the culture of your organisation there is a personal accountability on employees to improve their work every day.

This recommendation sounds so obvious. Surely we can expect this from any manager.  However, many organisations treat their employees as if their capabilities are unchanging, that improvement is the work of specialists and managers and that daily productivity is all that matters. Mix in hierarchical relationships and you have strongly reinforced a fixed mindset in the culture of the organisation i.e. do your job with minimum effort to the best of your ability only and wait to be changed.

There are many ways a personal accountability for improvement can be created in organisations:

  • customer experience, customer service improvement, etc
  • continuous improvement, productivity, kaizen, six sigma, etc
  • rising financial or performance expectations
  • personal leadership expectations
  • innovation, experimentation, agile, lean startup principles, etc
  • organisational values of improvement, growing impact on purpose, etc
  • talent development and on the job learning

Use one or all of the above. Whatever way it works in your organisations culture and strategy, the requirement is that your organisation expects and rewards people for the daily effort to improve. Over time that helps to create an expectation that every individual will work to make their work better.

The growth mindset in your organisation will drive the value of more mature forms of collaboration. Importantly, it will also drive an uplift in performance overall.

The misery of anticipation

More human misery has been caused by anticipation than the events that were feared. Stop bringing forward the pain.

This morning I caught a commuter train. Aside from the aesthetic misery caused by anti-graffiti fabric on the seats, the other noticeable thing was how glum a Monday morning work crowd can be.

We all know why work might make people glum. Engagement of employees is remarkably low. However, none of the people on the train were yet at work. They were glum because of the anticipation of the work day ahead. They could have been enjoying their last moments of freedom.

Stress is also a consequence of anticipation. Stress is a present concern about future events. We bring forward the pain with our anticipation.

Anticipation is a positive when it enables us to act and avoid negative events. However that demands we recognise the source of the anticipated pain and get on the job of avoiding it.

If anticipation is causing pain, either do something different or accept that the present moment is better than you think.