Week 3 Reflection: Stepping Outside of the Group Culture for a Moment

Being to married to process can prevent use from looking to new solutions or be married to the old ways of doing things

Being to married to process can prevent use from looking to new solutions or be married to the old ways of doing things

In this week’s lectures and materials we tackled the group obstacles to innovation as well as the often misused innovation tool: Brainstorming. In speaking of the group we’re referring to the immediate work-group or direct organization that one works in whether it’s a division, subgroup, project group, etc. Within the group Owen’s identifies 4 major constraints:

  • Emotion
  • Culture
  • Environment
  • Process

Emotion

  • These constraints include relationships that prevent trust, free sharing and productivity in the group.  Sometimes even loyalty can cloud our judgement about people’s actual skills or capabilities.
  • Also the emotion of fear (of rejection) can prevent us from willingly volunteering new ideas. If we’re afraid that we may be ridiculed or even ignored, we will stop sharing. Fear of being blamed for mistakes acts as an innovation killer.
  • Emotional and relationship conflict can cause team dysfunction. Lack of trust can destroy group dynamics.

Culture

Culture includes how the group both perceives and behaves. Culture defines what the group values. Here’s a really simple parable of how events in the past effect a group’s view of change. This view may prevent a group from finding new solutions. For example, let’s say Group X tried a new implementation Method Y to produce  Product Z under the leadership of a new manager who had good intentions. Unfortunately, the group was not properly trained or prepared in the implementation method, and there was an old guard who was quite married to their way of doing things and the decided to openly resist using the new methodology. Consequently Product Z failed miserably.

Upper management decided to blame not only the new manager and those who advocated for Method Y. From this time forward, in order to avoid conflict or shame, employees in this group avoided suggesting new ways of doing things unless they were blessed directly by upper management. This group consequently became married to ‘their tried and trusted ways’ of doing this.  This account may be slightly exaggerated but I’d be willing to bet many people working in business have seen a similar scenario some time in their career.

Cultural constraints can be the hardest to overcome when suggesting innovation or change because there’s some real hearts and minds stuff behind people’s investment and even pride in how they do things. Also, as in the example above, fear of the consequences of making mistakes within a group’s culture can be a negative constraint.

Environment

This constraint is quite simple to explain if you don’t have the right environment and tools, you may have a difficult time collaborating. Even having a document management system or an online collaboration system or tool that meets the group’s needs is important. Also, if there is no comfortable physical space to meet and work together the group will have a difficult time being productive as a group.

Process

Owen’s in his lectures this week spent a great deal of time explaining this constraint and how to overcome it.  Owens notes that groups can sometimes be so married to their process and focus on achieve efficiency in this process that they get stuck on a track. The problem with this again, is it makes the group less likely to adopt new ways of doing things when rapid change is needed.  This puts the group at risk of experiencing a process that may cause a bottleneck in their ability to change and be innovative.

Evolutionary bottleneck: The tens of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals today share genetic material from just a few ancestors

Evolutionary bottleneck: The tens of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals today share genetic material from just a few ancestors. We can experience innovation bottlenecks if we don’t branch out and look at new ways of doing things.

But to overcome process constraints Owens recommends a few remedies that make a great deal of sense.

First is to use a process, but a simple one that can be adaptable to the group. Owens suggests a Seven phase process that has different levels of engagement from the group as a group and as independent workers. In phase 1 the problem is identified and in phase 2 as many ideas to solve the problem are identified. There’s emphasis here in finding or listing as many ideas as possible.  As you travel down the path, this list naturally will be will be whittled down. But here’s the great part: The group doesn’t have to be involved as a whole in every step of the process.  Those committee meetings that caused projects to inch through the calendar like a limestone parade float – those are forbidden if any true innovation is to happen.

Owens' 7 Step Process for Innovation - details available in "Creative People Must be Stopped."

Owens’ 7 Step Process for Innovation – details available in “Creative People Must be Stopped.”

The second suggestion I walked away with was that it is important to analyze the problem or issue that requires innovation and determine if radical innovation is needed. If so, it’s important to assign the right kinds of people to the innovation team. But how do you do this? One answer: assign the right people on your team of innovators.

Owens explains that there are two types of Innovators (Team R & Team A). Their qualities can be described as follows:

Characteristics of both "R" & "A" innovators

Characteristics of both “R” & “A” innovators

The “R-type” innovator can be characterized as the person who often sees radical or even unconventional solutions, They are people who are good at laying a number of seemingly unrelated ideas or solutions down. They might also question how things are done.  Which can be frustrating to co-workers who don’t want to challenge the status quo.

The “A-type” innovator can be end-product focused. I worked with someone who was like this in a past worklife. He was highly detail-oriented and would manage the process every step of the way, making sure that each step had a milestone and the group would do want ever it could to accomplish it. I would use him has a springboard to find the possible execution problems in a project because of his broad analytical thinking and his meticulousness. However, not everyone saw his detail-orientation as I saw it and sometimes thought of him as being contrary to their process flow.

Initially I thought I was an “R” but then I realized after working at my last group I became the “A” person, always looking for a defined process, measurements, ways to determine or measure our success… because they didn’t seem to follow any process or even understand that one was necessary.   I wanted to have an end product to shoot for. This group was still struggling to define the product they wanted and would often rely on their upper leadership to set the tone.  This was fine when leadership had a clear picture and was well-informed about what they wanted. When it comes down to it, I’m probably a hybrid of the two types.

Owens teaches us that as innovation leaders we should be able to tell when to use the “A’s” and the “R’s” in a project timeline. As he illustrated in the diagram below, both the A’s & R’s have their place in a project and should be leveraged by the leader to work in harmony with each other. Now that’s something worth learning.

RsandAs

 

I forgot to add some resources I found earlier that related to this week’s topics:

Article from Fast Company: “Five Ways Process is Killing your Productivity”

How Collaboration can Kill Creativity:

What are the disadvantages of Project Management:

One word from the author of this post = “Obsession”

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