Building Teams and Developing the Culture to Make Sure Everyone Has the Chance to Figure Things Out
As always, some time spent with women leaders in education has left me in awe of the strength, creativity, and commitment that powers so much of our educational workforce. Over the past two months, I’ve had the joy of chatting with so many leaders. Many are hiring, many of whom are taking a moment to focus on team wellness, many are up-skilling themselves, and all are remaining committed to the intention behind public education and serving students and communities.
As I have visited with these dynamic women over the past three months, there has been a continual conversation about successful teams and the most engaged employees. Our discussions ended with one key theme: the importance of figuring things out. Not through an “it’s your problem, you figure it out” approach, but rather through an “I believe in you, and our organization needs your brain and heart and energy” approach.
The looming question throughout these conversations has been: How can you build your teams and organizations so that they have a drive to figure things out?
First and foremost, it is essential to understand the skills associated with individuals “being able to figure things out.” When I reviewed my database on key skills and the research behind developing those skills, a few things from the literature base floated to the top.
- Self-direction. This is often defined as the capability to direct our lives and manage our learning, motivation, and behavior. For some, that equates to setting goals, independently driving learning, taking action to achieve goals, and delivering on expected contributions.
- Problem Solving. This one is often talked about but much less often defined. In a nutshell, problem-solving is about finding solutions that enable you to overcome roadblocks and seeing the value in overcoming setbacks.
But we have to remember that this not just about the skills of individuals but also the culture of our organizations.
While leaders of yesteryear (especially in education) may have wanted to know the second anyone ran into a roadblock so that they could solve the problem for someone, today, we understand the value-add of giving our teams and employees agency to solve problems and innovate around new solutions.
How can leaders build organizations so that everyone has the drive to figure things out? Here are some examples that might get you thinking.
- Provide the framework and support, but be the proverbial guide on the side.
- Don’t solve problems for people. Encourage them to contribute. (An important side note from one of the women in our leadership conversations recently, “…as a leader, I can always come up with a solution, and I always have an opinion. I have learned over time that part of my role is to sit back and listen and encourage contributions. I never expected to lead so much and learn so much from being the listener.”)
- Practice giving quality feedback (not just feedback or opinion).
- Know when to stay out of it and when to tune in when your teams are solving problems. (Another important side note from one of the women in our leadership conversations recently, “…sometimes when my team comes to me and shows me their ideas and helps me understand where they are stuck, the best compliment as a leader is when they turn and ask me for help.”)
- Carve out time for your teams to learn new things.
- Share what your teams are figuring out and celebrate new learning. (And yet another important side note from one of the women in our leadership conversations recently, “…we all learn so much when we take time, even just once a month, to talk about what we are learning, reading, and improving upon. We have a moment of collective learning that is irreplaceable.”)
- Institutionalize inquiry so that teams are learning, asking questions, and improving your organization.
Keep in mind that your actions as a leader and the culture of your organization must align with the idea that employees can be more engaged and fulfilled when given the freedom and trust to figure things out.
Taking a quick walk through some of the research on the main blockers to employee initiative, there is a clear link to the importance of organizational culture and the vibe among your teams. The research in organizational development called attention to a need for more acceptance of divergent ideas, decreasing pressures towards uniformity, and addressing a lack of organizational framing around problem-solving as critical drivers for the lack of initiative among teams.
In education, we used to think of districts, schools, and classrooms. Today we think about people, systems, and impact. When we understand how the foundations of our work have changed we free ourselves up to create the culture and organization humans strive to be a part of.
As the coaching sessions this month start, I am excited for the conversations to continue. One thing is certain, with quality leaders who believe in their teams, we can make a difference in our people and our collective impact.
Take some time to think about how we are collectively encouraging others to take initiative and figure things out, how we are modeling being open to new ideas, how we as leaders are tackling beliefs and organizational habits that are resistant to change, and consider how we are leading by empowering others to run ahead and improve our organizations.
Building self-direction and problem-solving skills in students takes intentional effort. Our teams deserve the same commitment.
Jody is a thought leader, activist, and long-time contributor to developing educators and leaders to support Generation Alpha as they enter our schools and lead our communities. Keep up with her work at JodyBritten.com.