How to increase organizational brainpower
Do you sometimes ponder on the characteristics of your organizational culture?
In this newsletter we would like to share some of our reflections on the importance of developing the kind of culture necessary for nurturing a high level of intellectual exchange between people.
Many organizations find that having this kind of culture is not really a choice anymore but rather an urgent necessity in order to keep up with high demands and expectations from different stakeholders. However, let´s not forget, developing conditions that enable organizational brainpower to grow is hard work!
Individual and Organizational Performance
Hiring the most highly qualified employees is no guarantee for achieving organizational intelligence. A person´s ability to perform is closely connected to the current organizational culture. Therefore it can sometimes be hard, even for a very talented person, to actually make use of their competence and creativity.
At the same time, it has become more obvious than ever that everyone has potential to learn more. Neurological research on the plasticity and developmental capacity of the brain confirms human potential for personal growth at all ages. One example of this is that we can develop our ability to handle complexity, which is an important capacity in any organization.
However, in spite of everyone´s potential for growth, learning and development cannot be taken for granted –neither on an individual nor on an organizational level. As you know, it often just doesn´t happen the way we expect it to.
This is also why leaders need to pay close attention to and work intensively on supporting both cultural and personal development.
Long-term change of individual and cultural beliefs – challenging aspects
Experience and research tell us that traditional ways of working with human development and learning are not enough to fully achieve cultural and personal development. Cultural change is complex and often needs to be transformational in the sense that established norms and belief systems have to be challenged and, some of them changed.
Changing (being willing to change) values and belief systems calls for a deep and respectful process. This, so called, vertical development involves developing cognitive, psychological and emotional capacities. But inner transformation will not happen by just pushing for it. It is not a linear process following the theory of cause and effect.
To help individuals and groups grow in this way we therefore need to think differently. Traditional training programs and mastering of new knowledge will not be enough to facilitate this type of personal growth. Goal-oriented coaching, which involves trying to motivate and push for change, can actually be counter-productive in this context.
Coaching and training will always be important but we need to think about how to do it and what areas to work with in order to help people grow. We also need to find other methodologies that will serve as a complement.
We will discuss some of the reasons why transformational change is so challenging when it comes to human development and dynamics. We will also mention some of the things we believe leaders need to be aware of and attend to in order to support a more long-term and genuine cultural development.
The organizational level – managing problems together
Constant demand for business and operational development, critical time-lines and competition has changed our working conditions in many ways.
One of the consequences is that that today practically everyone in an organization has to face problems that are so complex by nature they cannot be handled effectively by just one person. Personal competence and expertise is not enough. Instead, the perspectives of many people need to be brought forward and used in order to create a deeper understanding of the problem and how to proceed.
It becomes more and more obvious that we need to stand strong together. But co-operation is not always easy. We believe that one of the most important tasks for every leader is to work through the difficulties towards a good working climate. Being a leader means facing complexity in every sense of the word. Handling it in a good way takes hard work, good awareness and a good leadership team.
Interconnectedness and dependency
Multi-dimensional problems have no clear or simple solutions and sometimes it is even hard to know what the problems really are. There is nothing strange about this but as a leader it is important to understand and remember the powerful impact it might have on creativity and co-operation.
When people face complex problems they react in many different ways, but such a situation will often bring about feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and fear. Not knowing what to do and not having a good answer is often experienced as unpleasant. Feeling competent is important for everyone.
When problem solving calls for many different perspectives, people become more dependent on each other. It means that they also become vulnerable not only to their own self-criticism but also to the opinions and criticism of other people. In a situation like that we tend to try to protect our self-respect and to keep the respect of others. We minimize risk.
One of the characteristics for us human beings, is that we do not generally want to experience unpleasant feelings. We try to find ways to get away from them. Maybe others think that there is no reason to be afraid but the experience makes it real for the person who feels it. And fear can be contagious. As a consequence of fear people may start to avoid important meetings, hold back information and reflections and avoid confronting others not to risk their relationships or their reputation.
The problem is that our avoidance often becomes counter-productive both to our own development and to the organizational needs. Instead of withdrawing and avoiding confronting the situation we need to find ways to really listen to and consider the expertise, interests and beliefs of other people. Furthermore, we need to be able to participate, when discussions become heated. We have to try our best to handle the frustration and contribute to the deepening of trust and co-operation.
Navigating these types of demanding interactions increases the need for personal development and organizational maturity. Everyone needs to take responsibility and go for a new step in their personal development! This goes for leaders as well as employees. However, we believe that leaders need to go first!
Invest in your leadership team – living what you expect from others
As a leader you have a strong influence on culture. Your actions and your way of being carry special weight and somehow you are always under observation.
You and your leadership team are role models. Your interaction and your genuine values will affect the whole organization – for better or for worse. People will know if you trust each other and function well together, if you like each other and if you have conflicts you cannot solve.
If you want to develop the current organizational culture in such a way that requires people to change not only behaviors but also values, attitudes and beliefs then you are also likely to communicate this – in words or otherwise. But to have genuine impact and be really credible in this process you also need to show that you are as serious about your own personal growth, as you expect them to be, and that you also work on vertical development in your leadership team.
Leading and supporting complex cultural change means a never-ending process. You will face many challenging issues along the way. Still, you can´t let go of or delegate the ownership of the change process if you want it to be successful. In many ways it is a test of endurance and you will need solid support along the way.
Building a well-functioning leadership team is therefore a good investment. If you wish to become skilled in supporting transformational change you and your leadership team need to develop genuine trust for each other, tolerance for uncertainty, a good capacity to respect each other´s reactions and acute awareness of processes and human dynamics. Remember that it takes time, dedication and courage to make this happen. Try to be respectful and considerate to others and to yourself! At times you might feel overwhelmed. That is completely normal. Do not forget to ask for help when you need it!