Instead of putting people on teams, let employees form their own teams. The result may surprise you.
Image credit: Victor Cohen
How do you promote an environment that inspires innovation? That is the million-dollar question – and for a long time, the most common strategy has been to hire competent leaders with sharp minds and mobilize them into effective teams. But some of the great innovations happening today begin very differently: leaders employ sharp minds, but they do not mobilize them into teams.
So who does? The team members themselves.
Teams formed in this way are called many different things: “empowerment,” “self-direction,” or “autonomy.” Whatever they call it, surveys have found that 79% of Fortune 1000 companies and 81% of manufacturing companies are currently implementing some version of this principle. Implementation may seem different, but the general idea is the same: these companies encourage their employees to be cohesive on their own and manage to explore new ideas, products and services – and, as a result, make great innovations, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction.
Related: 5 key steps in team building
Some companies give employees complete freedom to define their jobs; Others make it a freewheeling component in a more consistent role. Tesla, 3M, Google and Zappos, for example, allow employees to actively focus on their own ideas.
To see how this works, consider the so-called Rural Pennsylvania Company The new pig. The company uses Workplace Safety and Spill Containment products worldwide with more than 300,000 facilities, but its success does not start with its products. It starts with a mission to attract its employees.
New Pig is looking for workers who share the reason for its existence – not just having leaks and spills, but also thinking more broadly about how to keep the environment safe from gas, oil and other pollutants. These people are full of energy and thoughts and they want to make a personal impact. The new pig utilizes that power: it gives employees the freedom to develop new ideas and to join colleagues who are supported (but not particularly regulated) by the company.
Ideas can arise from customer feedback, technological developments, suppliers or market changes – and these ideas do not need to be fully formulated. According to Dan Silver, the company’s chief product officer, new ideas are first tested with some big questions: Does the idea solve the real problem? What is the size of the possibility? Can the idea create new customers? And is it compatible with the company core mission?
Once an idea is conceptually developed, it is time to build the team. Someone from the Product Development Department proposes an idea. The idea is placed in the product management system and reviewed by management. Once approved, a team with the most appropriate expertise and the greatest availability will be formed. The team meets to set goals and timelines. Then, management provides broad-based organizational support but allows the team to work unrestrictedly. After the allotted time and money have been spent and the team and others have made evaluations, a decision is made to continue the work or to abandon the idea.
The new pig believes it is important to “quickly fail” to conserve resources for other ideas and to learn from experience. This does not mean that the team is in a hurry to make a decision up or down, but everyone should remember not to extend it if the project looks unstable.
Related: 5 Ways Lean teams can work smarter and get more done
Many ideas do not go beyond the initial concept stage. Other products that show promise are converted into minimally viable products and tested to capture customer feedback (later sophisticated or killed). Regardless, nothing can be considered a failure. Each project has lessons for others so they can avoid similar problems.
However, some ideas Do Will be successful. That’s the thing. And so the new pig created its PIG Umbrella-style roof leak diverter.
Some time ago, a New Pig Product Development Associate visited a customer with a leaky roof. The customer puts it under a trash can to catch water. Worse yet, however, are leaks and debris in the middle of the sidewalk. The associate had the idea of catching water at the source of the leak near the ceiling and diverting it with a hose to a container kept in a safe, outdoor area. The idea was brought back to New Pigs headquarters. A team was formed. Tests were done. And, finally, a product was released.
How can you remove this in your own company? Telling people to create their own teams is not that easy. It starts with rethinking the management role.
It starts at the very top. Leaders need to be clear about the company mission, be driven to attract others with similar ideas, and deeply believe that the best ideas – as well as the best improvements on old ideas – will come from employees. Mentally secure leaders do not use their position to influence the actions of others; Instead, they relinquish power to benefit the entire company.
The company that adopts self-management teams also has fewer managers. Managing responsibilities still exist, of course – they are necessary to manage budgets and ensure that teams are working on a timely and appropriate task. But these managers should think of themselves as mentors or coaches. There is less direct “management” in the traditional sense.
Next, the timing and goals should be reconsidered. To empower a self-organized team, you need to allow the group to think differently. It does not focus on the company’s current plans; Instead, be left alone to think creatively. It should spend less time reporting on its work and actually devote more time to doing its work. In short, teams need to act like startups.
Related: 10 common ways to build a collaborative, successful work environment
Finally, review the employees you hire. You do not want people who think about titles. Ideally, they would not even (primarily) be motivated by money. These team members are passionate about your mission and have a strong desire to be part of an “active” work environment. As a result, they create order out of chaos: they thrive in a light, liquid environment; They are very flexible in their interactions with the organization; And they think entrepreneurship with the intention of allowing you to get the absolute best from them.
Employees can do a lot more than adhere to a narrow job description. By giving them opportunities to showcase their range of talents and abilities, you can discover their full potential, build social capital, build mutual trust and unleash your true potential to put your company one step ahead of the competition.