As leaders, we often wish that team members could think and work more creatively, while bringing some new ideas to the table. At the same time, we are often challenged to create and sustain environments that encourage and support this desired innovation. Safe spaces that are co-created by team members and leader can motivate teams to take the risks that lead to real rewards. These spaces unleash innovative ideas by offering the following:
- New paradigms for failure — In the space, employees are encouraged to fail. This offers a powerful contradiction that transforms failure from mistakes to a consequence of doing something different or new. This reframing gives teams confidence to engage in new and different thoughts, activities and discussions. When we examine failure (and success) to glean lessons, we provide a map for future attempts. Failures now become bumps along the path to success and not the end of the road.
- Cocoons for creativity — Where in your office can an unfinished thought be completed? Where can a whacky idea be mined for the gem it may hold? In the safe space where members trust that their unfinished, unformed ideas will not be stolen or derided. They get the support needed to restate, rebuild and rethink disparate thoughts into coherent, clear ideas that they own and receive full credit for.
- Places of no judgment — Leaders do not ascribe qualities to ideas. All ideas are equal; there are no bad ideas and no good ideas. When members present ideas, they are asked “What?” and “How?” questions, so that ideas are understood and determined feasible or unfeasible. When seemingly unsound ideas are treated the same as obviously “good” ideas members will voice “bad” ideas, unformed and unfinished thoughts, knowing that they will not be judged and can leave the room with a clear position.
- No competition among teams — The open communication fostered in the space allows the leader insight into the ambitions of each team member. Career paths and task assignment occur at the juncture of personal desires and organizational needs. Each member understands how her role contributes to both team and organizational goals, while serving personal career ambitions. There are no stars and no losers on this team, since each team member has a particular role that cannot compete with another, and each member’s career path is unique.
Rules maintain the sanctity of the space — To set up the space, members discuss what will make the space safe and what will violate safety. These discussions lead to the rules that govern the use of the space. Both leaders and team members are responsible for monitoring that rules are followed and breaches of the rules will be addressed in subscribed manners. Once the sanctity of the space is maintained, members will continue to trust that the space is safe and use the space to harness and unleash creativity.
Maxine Attong (www.MaxineAttong.com) has been leading small and large teams for the past two decades — both in organizational settings and in her private coaching and facilitation practice. She has been trained as a Gestalt Organizational Development practitioner, a Certified Evidence-Based Coach, a Certified Professional Facilitator, a Certified Management Accountant and is a former quality manager. Attong is a graduate of the University of the West Indies, and divides her time between the Caribbean and the United States. Her latest book is “Lead Your Team to Win: Achieve Optimal Performance by Providing a Safe Space for Employees.”