As a team, organization (or even individual) to achieve innovative outcomes, you must have three distinct components that come together:
Climate—the way we treat each other’s and ourselves
Thinking—thinking differently, not harder, about our problems and solutions
Action—a process to follow that is iterative and replicable
We express this as a formula: Innovation (is a function of) = Climate X Thinking X Action
We also show this as a Venn diagram throughout our body of knowledge:
When Climate, Thinking and Action come together in harmony, that’s where newness, breakthrough and innovation takes hold.
We know this from over 55 years of continuously studying how groups of people – teams, departments, and ad-hoc groups – have succeeded when brought together to invent new solutions to a problem or create new opportunities with an organization. Synecticsworld® uncovered, as early as 1960, that the same formula for innovation remains steady for successful collaboration, creativity, creative problem solving and innovation.
Choosing between the elements of Climate, Thinking and Action, I have found that not all three are equal when it comes to driving collaboration and creativity to get breakthrough results. In fact, if Climate is off, by a small degree, then Thinking and the Action becomes exponentially harder to manage. So why do organizations tend to not want to focus on the idea of creating a Climate that is better for the organization as a whole? The answer may come from one of the following conditions:
- Climate is equated with culture change. Culture change implies that there is something wrong with the people, and no organization wants to truly admit that and if they did, it would be too costly to course correct.
- Everything is fine. On the surface people are doing the jobs that they are asked to do…nothing less and yet nothing more.
- We never have debate, discourse or discussions in our teams. We all get along and always agree on how to move ahead even if that means doing the same thing over an over.
- Climate, culture, environment, etc. are just not on our radar. We need to focus on getting stuff done and growing the business.
Regardless whether you highlight one or all four of the above conditions, it takes a very attentive and in-tune leader to recognize that the Climate of the organization needs an adjustment or a boost. Typically, I have seen organizations highlight ways to interact better with senior management: suggestion boxes, open-door policies, employee ice cream socials, and so on. These, on the surface, indicate an attempt to create a work Climate that supports creative thought and collaboration because that’s what the employees say they need. Frequently, we have observed, employees can be like consumers; they cannot articulate their true needs, wants and beliefs when it comes to Climate. They can be like consumers in a focus group when they tell you what they think you want to hear about your product. They can be like consumers in the way that they tell you they do something most of the time, while they are doing something completely different.
How do we truly reach the unarticulated needs of our organization when it comes to creating a Climate that promotes Creativity and Collaboration?
Climate is a very different concept to different people. Again, in the world of Synectics®, Climate is referred to as the environment in which we enable new Thinking and courageous Action to take place when solving problems. In order to make this happen for our organizations, we need to focus on providing the following:
- Safety is about providing a mind-space that is judgment free and free-from judgment. It’s the notion of being welcomed and welcoming others not for just who they are, and for how they think.
- Trust is a by-product of feeling safe. When we feel safe we can have trusting, honest interactions without the fear of repercussion.
- When we have a safe Climate that is also trusting, we can then begin to be more open with our thoughts and ideas. Openness is about being open with our own thinking and open to hearing how others think, regardless if they are in synch or not.
Three areas seem like intangible happenstances in any organization. Having worked with Assurant Health to create new products and services that are tangential to their business required the ultimate in creating a safe, trusting and open work space. The team came together and committed to establishing a set of work parameters, an ethos if you would, that the team would operate by and within. Each team member was allowed to add their own item to the list that incorporated many ways on how to speak, interact and accept each others thinking in a project that was designed to essentially get away from the health insurance business. What this set of guidelines did was protect each of the team members from having to diffuse their thinking and allowed each individual to feel comfort in the fact that they were trying to put themselves out of business and reinvent the category.
- In order to build a Climate that promotes creativity and collaboration, people need different skills that help them speak and listen for cooperation and collaboration.
- We have to provide our employees with the knowledge about high performing teams and how they become successful and adept at creating solutions to the unsolvable problems.
- We have to help our employees first recognize the behaviors that both hinder and help our ability to be creative and a collaborative and provide a path for individuals to hone skills and knowledge to alter theirs.
Practice and use are the keys to becoming proficient with any skill or tool. Knowledge and knowing are ways to identify and keep or correct the behaviors that drive any type of adjustment on any type of scale. For instance, Henkel (a company based in Germany) has repeatedly brought the understanding of Climate to their Next Gen Leadership Program. Coupled with the tools and skills for creative thinking, the program allowed these future leaders to see, hear and practice ways to drive Climate back in their teams. The training doesn’t have to be an elongated, long-winded type of engagement. We focused quickly on what it takes to manage Climate and promote a Climate that fosters collaboration. We immersed into language skills that help keep conversations moving forward instead of shutting down conversation and eliminating discussion.
- Finally, for Climate to truly take hold you need People to help lead the way to and manage Climate. They should be facilitative leaders who understand the nuances of coaching and the finer details of change.
- You need a process that has been defined and designed to make the new Climate reveal itself. It is not something that happens overnight. Some will move quickly, some will take time and some will not move at all.
- You need a purposeful reason as to why you are making the shift. Climate for Climate’s sake is not something that employees will understand. However, if you have a reason such as changing the way we do business in our marketplace, wanting to invent (or reinvent) products and services, or developing new ways to engage with your consumers—anything that calls for thinking differently in your organization and in return, first calls for the organization to act differently—which is making changes in your Climate.
Colgate-Palmolive has invested in three key areas. Over the past five years, they have trained over 100 global facilitators whose function is to be the people who are responsible establishing, nurturing and safeguarding climate within meetings they facilitate. It is the deep experience and depth of understanding of Climate that has allowed Colgate-Palmolive to explore new options when working collaboratively to solve problems and create opportunities between the disparate functions of marketing and technology. These facilitators are prepared to work with problem owners to define the purpose for the collaborative problem solving session they will be leading. The facilitators design a way to quickly create a Climate that is open and safe for the team coming together to tackle issues and opportunities.
The trained Colgate-Palmolive facilitators have been immersed in the Synectics® research regarding Climate (through training), practice leading and managing Climate (through training and practicum), and understand that Climate must be purposefully maintained in order to solve the seemingly unsolvable problems. Having the holistic sense of leading both process and people has provided a way for Colgate-Palmolive to create efficiencies with their meetings and bring more meaningful results back into the business.
We never talked about Climate in terms of change, yet through the process of working towards collaboration and creativity it is recognized that Climate is the key component to making both of those happen. It is not until after the successes are celebrated that Climate’s impact is truly recognized and becomes clear as the articulated need in your organization and can then further have impact on a wider scale.