5 Actions to Create a Work Culture Safe for Innovation
People tend to thrive in environments where they feel safe. Organizations often consider the physical safety of their individuals, but fewer consider the implications of intellectual and emotional safety in driving company success.
Leaders have the opportunity to help engineer a generative culture, where team members feel safe, supported, and trusted to think creatively and innovate. However, creating a psychologically safe culture isn’t as easy as just saying you want one.
Here are five actions leaders can take to create and nurture healthy working environments.
1. Increase communication
Communication is vital to being agile. The team needs to be on the same page about requirements, expectations, and deliverables, and transparent communication will help facilitate that more collaborative environment. Increased collaboration and openness allow teams to spark new ideas, work more efficiently, and feel more motivated to create valuable software.
2. Give your team space
One of the cardinal sins of management is managing too much. When people feel they are micromanaged or overly supervised, they won’t feel inspired to try new things, share ideas, or innovate. However, when individuals trust their managers, they’re more willing to take chances, improve products, and, ultimately, deliver higher value to the customer. As a manager, this means you might need to take a step back, observe, listen, and become a servant to your team.
3. Remove blockers to inspire experimentation
Team members are often pushed to the brink of their work capacity, which inhibits creative thinking and problem-solving. As an agile leader, you have the opportunity to help remove impediments for your team. By removing certain blockers, you will free up time for your team to make creative decisions on their own without relying on management to do all the problem-solving. By serving teams in this capacity, leaders also demonstrate a level of empathy the team can feed off of to experiment and innovate.
4. Use failure as a learning opportunity
Empower the team to fail, and when they inevitably do, support them, fend off naysayers, and challenge the team to improve. Asking people to fail is challenging, but encouraging them to learn is often welcomed with open arms. As a leader, you can demonstrate experimentation by taking risks yourself on behalf of the team. You can also promote continued experimentation by standing by your team when things go wrong.
5. Defend your team and applaud their risk-taking
If your team takes reasonable risks in an effort to deliver the highest-quality products but occasionally falls short of planned commitments, defend and applaud them to your organization’s leadership. When you fail to meet commitments, people will inevitably be upset. But by defending your team and celebrating their ingenuity in front of stakeholders and leadership, you’ll continue to nurture a generative environment and earn the trust of your team.
Innovation isn’t about expecting perfection; it’s actually quite the contrary. To innovate, you must learn, and failure is our greatest learning tool. The best leaders don’t do all the work themselves or punish those who fall short. The best leaders help create healthy working environments where teams feel psychologically safe, supported, and trusted to get the work done.