As corporate innovators, we face many different challenges, day in, day out.

Since Covid hit, as innovation function we’ve been tasked to help with everything from digitizing core business process and product pivots, to launch new potentially self-disruptive ventures in new markets from scratch.

Innovation is more important than ever before, yet at the same time, in most organizations there’s still not enough support and resources to properly “do” innovation. In conversations with dozens of our Innov8rs Community members, we heard back how much adversity and uncertainty (also about their own function and role, as a result of the many re-orgs now happening) they are facing at this moment.

As such, we focused one of our recent members-only Innov8rs Community Club sessions on how to cope with all these challenges and changes, and stay focused on making progress. For that, we invited Stefan Lindegaard to help us to embracing the growth mindset and creating psychological safety for our teams.

Here’s a summary of what we discussed.

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Your mindset dictates how you behave in any situation. It is a mental framework that selectively organizes and encodes information, giving you a unique way of understanding your experiences. Your mindset also guides you towards different actions and responses to those experiences.

Mindsets are the sum of our thoughts and beliefs, and they shape our behaviors in powerful ways. According to Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading expert on motivation and achievement goal theory, there are two broad types of mindset: Fixed and Growth. While many people actually have a hybrid of these two different mindsets, it’s worth considering both in turn to understand how important having a collective growth mindset is for your team.

Fixed Mindset

Those with a fixed mindset tend to be averse to challenges. They might give up easily when facing tough obstacles and see feedback in a negative light. They see effort as a fruitless endeavor in many cases and feel threatened by the success of those around them. Their intelligence becomes static, and their main driver is a desire to look smart.

Growth Mindset

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset embrace challenges and see effort as a path to mystery. They are inspired by others’ successes and learn from feedback and criticism. They persist in the face of setbacks, allowing them to develop their intelligence over time, driven by a desire to learn.

“Some people believe their talents and abilities are these fixed traits (a fixed mindset). You have a certain amount and that’s it. But other people believe talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, good manager-ing from others,” Dr. Dweck explains in a discussion at Talks at Google.

A lot of people think they have a growth mindset and assume it’s everyone else around them that has to change – not them. But it’s hard to change other people, and it might not even be true. Instead, as innovator, you must be willing to look inwards to see if it’s you that needs to change first.

What Makes For A Great Team

In order for a team to find success, it needs to have a team-based approach for embracing and implementing a growth-mindset collectively. This means everyone needs to have an understanding of each other’s mindsets for starters, but there’s more.

Stefan shared what he believes to be the five components to a great team.

  • # 1 - A collective growth mindset. The team members are curious learn-it-all rather than a bunch of know­it-all types.
  • # 2 - Psychological safety. The team can have hard conversations and manage feedback in constructive ways and they take risks as they feel confident and secure.
  • # 3 - Clarity of purpose and meaning (for team and individuals). The purpose and objectives of the team are clear and well aligned with the "what's in it for me?" question on the individual level.
  • # 4 - Transparency, trust and dependability. There can be risks involved when you decide to open up and trust and depend on others, but the rewards are far greater.
  • # 5 - Get stuff done. Nothing matters if the team does not get stuff done. The above elements combined with needed internal infrastructure, support and mandate help a team get stuff done in the best possible ways.

Zooming in to the second component, psychological safety, according to to Dr. Amy Edmondson, this refers to a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

Her research shows that psychological safety brings along quality improvements while enhancing learning behavior and productivity. Furthermore, Google states that teams with high rates of psychological safety were better than other teams at implementing diverse ideas and driving high performance. These employees were also more likely to stay with the company.

The latter is backed up by Gallup. Their data reveals that while just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count, there is a huge upside in doubling that ratio to six in 10 employees. They learned it could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.

The data is there so, the question is: how strong is the psychological safety in your team and organization?

Here are some questions we explored, and you can use as well to gauge this and spur reflections and actions.

  • # How often do you see colleagues being afraid of speaking their minds in meetings and interactions with their bosses?
  • # To which extent do you believe that your colleagues keep their thoughts to themselves and do not speak up in meetings and other interactions even though their input would most likely add value?
  • # Playing to win versus playing not to lose. Which mindset is the most prevalent in your organization?
  • # How do your leaders and thus your organization deal with failure? We don't talk about outright incompetence here, but rather honest mistakes and things that did just not work out despite proper intentions and efforts.

Having The Hard Conversations

Leaders will not only fail themselves but also their colleagues, customers and partners if they don't address the hard conversations and undiscussables.

Too often, Stefan has seen the lack of hard conversations among an executive team create organizational barriers towards shaping the future aka corporate innovation.
This is what Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux refer to as “undiscussables”. They argue that "undiscussables exist because they help people avoid short-term conflicts, threats, and embarrassment. But they also short-circuit the inquiries and challenges essential to both improving performance and promoting team learning."

They have identified four key undiscussables:

  1. You THINK but dare not say. Undiscussables are most commonly associated with risky questions, suggestions, and criticisms that are self-censored. You may joke about them or discuss them confidentially but never openly.
  2. You SAY but don't mean. Alongside unspoken truths, there are spoken untruths. These
    undiscussables reflect discrepancies between what the team says it believes or finds important and how it behaves (what academics have described as gaps between espoused theory and theory-in-use).
  3. You FEEL but can't name. Some undiscussables are rooted in negative feelings - such as annoyance, mistrust, and frustration - that are difficult for team members to label or express constructively. But manifesting one's anger or resentment is not the same thing as discussing it.
  4. You DO but don't realize. The deepestundi.scussables are collectively held unconscious behaviors. These undiscussables are the most difficult to uncover. Members of the team may be aware of isolated problems in their dynamic, but they cannot connect the dots and infer root causes, so they jump to the wrong conclusions about what is behind team inefficiencies and poor performance.

Discovering the “WIIFM”

In his work with innovation and business leaders over the last years, Stefan found that any person with career and leadership ambitions has one - maybe two - personal drivers that contain the essence of the answer to the above question.

When you get close to someone and they open up and tell you their answer to the "what's in it for me?" question, this is most often about reaching the CxO­level, becoming a highly respected specialist or to head a specific business unit or function such as innovation or HR. Sometimes the answer also floats around the desire to have a good work/life balance and for a few who have worked for many years, it could also be that they just want to ride it out to retirement (in this case, it typically will be tough to succeed with change and growth initiatives).

As innovation leaders we spend a good chunk of our time – one might argue, too much –on educating and engaging stakeholders across the business. Whether it’s about securing resources or transitioning pilots to the running business, we often face resistance.

As such, identifying and understanding the answer to the "What's In It For Me?" question is key. This is undoubtedly what will be on the minds of most of your stakeholders when you present them with a change or challenge. They want to know what they gain from doing what you want them to do.

You therefore need to consider whether you can help their career in some way, usually indirectly. You need to align what you’re trying to do from the perspective of the business with what they’re trying to achieve on a personal level. Essentially, if you can help people get what they want, they’re more likely to listen to you.

Seeing Things Others Don’t

In closing, Stefan shared that as corporate innovators, it’s not “innovation” as such that we do well. Instead, it’s our ability to see things other people don’t, and to see opportunities that others miss, and then to bring these to live within the business.

Even though there’s often no obvious career path for innovators, and in some organizations it’s even better to not have “innovation” in your title, that ability will be in even higher demand in the foreseeable future- so we don't need to stress out about the next re-org shaking up how innovation is structured (maybe, again).

With that, we left the call armed with new clarity and confidence to take on all those challenges and changes inevitably waiting for us.

Want to dive deeper? Download Stefan's mini-book "The Growth Mindset For Teams" here. And do get in touch with Stefan Lindegaard if you like the e-book and have questions or comments on his work, via e-mail or LinkedIn.