Fostering Innovation in Groups and Teams

I’m studying the course Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4: Fostering Innovation in Groups and Teams.

Introduction & Learning in Ambiguous and Uncertain Environments

  • How do we balance what we don’t know with what we do know?
  • Organisations need to enable a learning environment:
    • Organisational enablers of continuous learning
    • Concepts of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and liberating structures
    • Working with ambiguity and unpredicatbility
  • Uncertainty can enable creative solutions.
  • Suggested reading:
    • Michel, A., & Wortham, S. (2009). Bullish on uncertainty: How organizations transform individuals. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Conditions for Learning

  • Complex Adaptive Systems:
    • Main characteristics:
      • self-similarity
      • self-organisation
      • complexity
      • emergence
    • Traditional models of change: there are experts who can instruct others
    • Sometimes there are no experts, there is no solution to transfer
    • The solution must be discovered
  • Self organisation:
    • the tendency of an open system to generate new structures and patterns based on its own internal dynamics.
    • Organization design is not imposed from above or outside; it emerges from the interactions of the participants in the system.
  • Conditions for self-organisation:
    • Container
      • sets bounds for the self-organizing system. It defines the “self” that organizes.
      • The container may be physical (e.g. geographic location), organisational (e.g. department) or conceptual (e.g. identity, purpose, or procedures)
    • Significant differences
      • determine the primary patterns that emerge during self-organizing processes.
      • A difference between two agents may be reflected and reinforced by other agents in the system, which then establishes a system-wide pattern.
    • Transforming exchanges
      • These form the connections between system agents.
      • Information, money, energy, or other resources are the media for transforming exchanges.
      • As the resource flows from agent to agent, each is transformed in some way.
      • These patterns of individual change lead, ultimately, to adaptability of the system as a whole
  • CAS are necessary tools
    • Hierarchy isn’t going to get us there


Organizing Under Uncertainty

  • In traditional organisations, change is perceived to be top-down.
    • Current state, target state, steps to get to the target state
  • Team structures need to be more emergent in complex adaptive systems
    • Change is in response to changes in the environment, and how to fit better in the new environment.
  • Solutions can come from anywhere in the system (not just at the top of the hierarchy)
  • Self-Organisation:
    • the tendency of an open system to generate new structures and patterns based on its own internal dynamics.
    • Organization design is not imposed from above or outside; it emerges from the interactions of the participants in the system.

Scenario: Team at GURD, Part 1

  • Background:
    • GURD Limited
    • Software development services company
    • Works primarily with pharmaceutical companies
    • New client that they’ve asked to a develop a CRM tool
    • Team will test the program in 3 months
  • Stephanie (Project Manager):
    • Welcome everyone, glad you can be here
    • Hey Mikki (who is remotely dialed in on video)
    • As you know, we have an amazing project. It’s a big dal for GURD. If all goes well it could lead to many more projects. If there are any snags, the client could lose al ot of money. A big financial loss, for us as well as them. We just want to amek sure that everything is rolling along as it should for the testing in 3 months. So, where are we at in regards to that?
  • Gigi (Testing Lead):
    • We right now are just concerned about the compatibility of systems. We haven’t done any testing so far.
  • Jacob (Software Development Lead):
    • Good point, but that’s why we did due diligence before we started this project. We’ve been working hard and really studying the client systems, and making sure that it mirrors the development systems.
  • Mikki (Software Development Lead):
    • We can still have technical issues creeping in during the testing phase. We don’t have any control over those client systems, and that due diligence was done a little while ago. They may have done software upgrades since then.
  • Stephanie:
    • That’s a really valid point. It could be a really high risk situation if we don’t get on it. What can we do?
  • Gigi:
    • I checked the knowledge repository. We have a lot of history here with our previous clients.
  • Jen (Client Services Lead):
    • I will definitely be in touch with Theresa at the clients office with regard to IT. I’m certain that they’ve done multiple technology upgrades.
  • Stephanie:
    • Good. I think the Software Development Departement really needs to look over this beforehand, right? John’s going to find out all the information from the client. Find out if there’s anything we need to do to adjust and to integrate with their system before three months time. So, you’re going to get that to Mikki and Jacob. They’ll review it over the next few days, maybe over the weekend as well. Next week we’ll meet at the same time, and see where we stand at that point. Sound good?
  • Jen:
    • I’ll send you guys an email after I talk to her on Friday.
  • Stephanie:
    • OK, good. So next point of business. Company picnic. Did you guys get the invitation?
  • <<crosstalk> yeah
  • Stephanie:
    • Anyone bringing your kids? Mikki, are you bringing your son?

Scenario: Team at GURD, Part 2

  • Background:
    • After 3 weeks, the same team meets again
  • Stephanie (Project Manager):
    • Thanks everybody for being back. So, hi Jan. Were you able to find out from the client any information about co-ordinating systems?
  • Jen (Client Services Lead):
    • Yeah, I met with Theresa and the site team last week, and we put together a list of all the new information, and I sent that along to Jacob and Mikki, and we’re working through it.
  • Mikki (Software Development Lead):
    • That was really helpful, they made a lot of changes and upgrades on the client end. So, we’re going to make some changes to our software, so it’s going to work smoothly.
  • Stephanie:
    • So, how can we resolve the discrepancies?
  • Mikki:
    • Well, I propose we do a dry run. So that way, we can do this thing in real time. If there’s any glitches, we can address them before it gets to user testing.
  • Gigi (Testing Lead):
    • I think that’s a great idea. We can schedule a week or two ahead of testing.
  • Jen:
    • I’ll let Theresa know so that the team over there is prepared.
  • Jacob (Software Development Lead):
    • I just want to say, I’m not sure a dry run will grab everything. I was reviewing some of the implementations and I think it would be in our best interest to bring in a tech expert. Other projects have done it, they’ve been successful with it, I think we should try it.
  • Stephanie:
    • Good idea. Should we just throw out some names for people who could do something like this? I’m thinking maybe Janine?
  • Gigi:
    • Janine, or maybe Margaret even.
  • Stephanie:
    • We do have budget for this.
  • Gigi:
    • We put aside a little bit of funding for an expert review. We can get that done like one or two months ahead of testing.
  • Stephanie:
    • All right Mikki, well, let’s get the ball rolling, then.
  • Mikki:
    • You got it.
  • Stephanie:
    • Did you get some of that potato salad yesterday? It was amazing!
  • <<crosstalk>>

Debrief: GURD Scenario

  • This is a team that’s working quite differently to most of the other scenarios we’ve shown you.
  • They have quite a bit of flexibility, adaptability and engagement.
  • There is an aspect of inclusion
    • Even though there is a remote member, they are incorporating him into their discussions and social engagements.
  • Complex Adaptive Systems
    • It’s energising to be part of a team that is learning and adapting.
    • Simple problems:
      • In both meetings, there were some simple problems that recurred, and were addressed easily and readily. They have a formula or format for doing that.
    • Complicated problems
      • Knowledge mangaement repository
        • Someone’s been here before, what did we do?
    • Complex problems
      • Client environment is unpredictable. They have no control over the upgrades or changes on the client system.
      • Mark Twain:
        • “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you it trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”
    • The person who identifies problems is not shut down or blamed.
    • There’s a safe space created.
      • Safe spaces allow everyone to come up with their own perspective.
      • This enriches the conversation
      • Helps them to become more productive and effective
    • Customer’s world is constantly changing.
    • The team exhibited responsiveness
    • Diffusion of ideas
    • Knowledge management repository
      • Record of previous projects.
      • Ability to learn from past mistakes
      • Find out what has been done previously that can be applied now.
    • Emergent behaviour:
      • Teams that are future focused are more able to handle uncertainty and ambiguity
        • There are going to be variables that we don’t know
      • When teams handle emergent problems they need to constantly update their information.
      • Our work together on this team has been emergent
      • Helpful to add new perspectives

Liberating Structures: Examples of Team Exercises

  • Enabling structures:
    • are ones that support teams and group working.
    • e.g. Rewards need to be structured so that they encourage teamwork
      • i.e. reward the team, not the individual.
  • Liberating Structures:
    • We can invite people in the container (team, group), but we need ways to engage them, get them to engage, exchange view points.
    • Liberating structures can encourage the Complex Adaptive System to adapt, to be resilient and learn
    • Impromptu Speed Networking
      • How to get everyone engaged from the start? This technique gets everyone involved, indepentant of rank.
      • Think of one or two provocative questions that are pertinent to the meeting
        • Situation you’re in
        • Problem you’re trying to solve
      • Get everyone in an open space (a container)
      • A facilitator rings a bell and says “think silently for a minute or two, gather thoughts on the question that is in front of us”
      • After a while, the facilitator rings the bell again. Everyone finds someone in the room which they know the least well, and have a conversation with that person (up to five or ten minutes)
      • The bell is rung again, and pairs swap.
      • This is repeated for two or three rounds.
      • At the end, everyone sits together and asks:
        • “What did you discover about the question?”
        • “What were some of the insights that came out?”
        • “What do you now think about it?”
        • “How did your perspective change as a result of the conversations?”
    • 1-2-4-ALL
      • Not everyone feels comfortable talking or asking questions in a meeting. This creates a safe space for all those questions to be asked, and for others to listen to. Allows all voices to be heard
      • Participants in the meeting are given a chance to reflect on a problem, situation or question that needs to be answered
      • They pair in twos and discuss their reflections on the question
      • It then moves to a larger group of two pairs (4 people)
      • It then gets disussed in the whole group
    • Q Storming / Wise Crowds
      • Instead of taking questions one at a time, take 2, 3, 4, etc questions at a time.
      • This gives options about how to thread those questions together
    • TRIZ
      • A good way of discouraging the old disabler activies
      • The group asks the questions in order:
        • “What’s the worst possible outcome we can imagine?” or “What do we absolutely not want to happen?”
        • “What would cause this to happen?”
        • “What are we doing that is very similar to what would produce the bad outcome?”
      • Get rid of the last thing.
      • Defensive routines (Agyris):
        • An example of a taboo: asking “What’s not working well?”
        • Easy to answer the question “What’s working well?”, but the opposite triggers defensive routines.
        • TRIZ can help open up these taboo subjects.
    • Premortem
      • Start with the question: “What could go wrong with this project?” (at the start of the project)
    • Dissenting voices
      • Conflict is averted because it is no longer repressed
    • Empowering conversations
    • These liberating structures prevent a senior or alpha person from hijacking the meeting, asking the first question.
    • They break the frame of hierarchy
    • Everyone has to participate! (can’t zone out on a laptop or phone)
  • Suggested readings:

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