“Improvisation Takes Practice” in HBR is a great read. When I first read it, I chuckled at how it brings my gamer hobby and my quality practice together.
Employee creativity—the production of novel and useful solutions, procedures, products, and services—is critical to organizational success. I would argue, creativity drives excellence. Improvisation is a key employee behavior that drives creativity and innovation.
Improvisation is essential for navigating volatile, uncertain, and complex environments and dealing with unforeseen obstacles. Improvisation is also key to drawing distinctions, implementing new ideas, and converting knowledge and insights into action in real time. When confronted with critical and disruptive events, employees can resolve challenges by following existing protocols and procedures. In contrast, when faced with novel events, employees cannot rely on routines and conventions to respond. Rather, they will have to shift their focus to new perspectives, features, and behaviors.
The process of building expertise, when practices are assimilated, embodied, and rendered tacit, creates improvisational competence. Improvisation is an important source of action generating learning: people act to make events meaningful and situations understandable and, in the process, deepen their expertise through further learning, becoming reflective practitioners.
As we build quality culture we need to question our basic assumptions and build new principles of every day interactions. At the heart of this sits a culture where change is viewed as a good thing.
Willingness to change
To what extent are employees willing to continuously review and adapt their own behavior in response to a changing environment? The ideal scenario is for the entire workforce to be willing to change. This willingness to change should not be confined to situations where changes are already being implemented. It means that people should look at environment with open eyes, recognize when there is an opportunity or a need for change and initiate the relevant actions themselves. Willingness to change should be the first principle of culture and is a key enabler of the popular concept often called agility.
To what extent do employees think that their actions should be guided by data- and fact-based knowledge? The term “knowledge” encompasses any knowledge acquired through targeted observation, by chance, through data-based analysis or from practical experience.
Learning cultures attach great importance to mistakes. These organizations have understood that learning and change processes can only be triggered by mistakes. Mistakes provide an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the company’s processes and uncover previously unknown cause-and-effect relationships.
The way an organization deals with mistakes is therefore a key aspect of its culture. Two fundamentally different approaches to mistakes exist.
A negative attitude towards mistakes is reflected in a strategy based on the systematic avoidance of errors, strict penalties for making mistakes and the correction of errors as rapidly and unobtrusively as possible. Employees of companies where this culture prevails are not usually willing to disclose mistakes. This attitude inhibits their willingness to change.
On the other hand, a culture that recognizes the value of mistakes is characterized by open discussion of mistakes when they occur, systematic error documentation and a determination to find both the causes of the mistakes and their solutions. When investigating mistakes, it is critical to focus on understanding the causes rather than on finding out who is to blame.
Openness to Innovation
Openness to innovation and new ways of doing things is an important capability that is required in order to initiate change and adopt the right measures, even if they may sometimes be rather unconventional.
An environment characterized by trust and social relationships provides the basis for open, uninhibited knowledge sharing between employees. Social collaboration, helps to accelerate knowledge sharing within the organization. Good strong social networks build resilience and enable the ability to change.
In order for companies to respond rapidly and to be able to effectively change, employees need to have access to the necessary explicit and implicit knowledge. While explicit knowledge can be provided through the appropriate communication technology, the sharing of implicit knowledge calls for direct communication between the people who possess the knowledge and the people seeking it.
An effective organization needs to abandon the “us and them” mentality. Employees have acquired the capability of open communication if, having taken on board the fact that openly sharing knowledge and working together to achieve a vision increases the total sum of knowledge, they then also act accordingly. Once the organization’s entire workforce is willing to share knowledge with everyone, it becomes possible to significantly accelerate learning processes within the company.
What Does This Look Like?
Social collaboration exists between employees and with customers and partners. Confidence in systems and processes results in high process stability. People are willing to document their acquired knowledge and share it with others. The democratic leadership style values people for the contribution they make and there is a culture of open communication. The workforce is both receptive and willing to change. They learn systematically from the captured data, are open to innovative approaches and participate in shaping change processes. Employees are also conscious of the need to continuously develop their skills and competencies. While mistakes are still made, people recognize that they are valuable because they have the potential to trigger improvements.
An UnConference, otherwise known as a OpenSpace or BarCamp, is a tool I’m a huge fan of. They can really serve to generate action and build energy, commitment, and shared leadership with a group by unleashing self-organization. The idea is to make sure that ALL of the issues that are most important to the participants are raised, included in the agenda, and addressed, making it possible for participants to take responsibility for tackling the issues that they care about and for what does or doesn’t happen
Which makes it a great tool for the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum to really generate some activity. If you are interested please respond to the survey above.
With much of the work in organizations accomplished through teams it is important to determine the factors that lead to effective as well as ineffective team processes and to better specify how, why, and when they contribute. It doesn’t matter if the team is brought together for a specific project and then disbands, or if it is a fairly permanent part of the organization, similar principles are at work.
The input-process-output model of teams is a great place to start. While simplistic, it can offer a good model of what makes teams works and is applicable to the different types of teams.
Input factors are the organizational context, team composition, task design that influence the team. Process factors are what mediates between the inputs and desired outputs.
Leadership: The leadership style(s) (participative, facilitative, transformational, directive, etc) of the team leader influences the team toward the achievement of goals.
Management support refers to the help or effort provided by senior management to assist the project team, including managerial involvement and resource support.
Rewards are the recompense that the organization gives in return for good work.
Knowledge/skills are the knowledge, experience and capability of team members to process, interpret, manipulate and use information.
Team diversity includes functional diversity as well as overall diversity.
Goal clarity is the degree to which the goals of the project are well defined and the importance of the goals to the organization is clearly communicated to all team members.
Cooperation is the measure of how well team members work with each other and with other groups.
Communication is the exchange of knowledge and information related to tasks with the team (internal) or between team members and external stakeholders (external).
Learning activities are the process by which a team takes action, contains feedback and makes changes to improve. Under this fits the PDCA lifecycle, including Lean, SixSigma and similar problem solving methodologies..
Cohesion is the spirit of togetherness and support for other team members that helps team members quickly resolve conflicts without residual hard feelings, also referred to as team trust, team spirit, team member support or team member involvement.
Effort includes the amount of time that team members devote to the project.
Commitment refers to the condition where team members are bound emotionally or intellectually to the project and to each other during the team process.
Process Factors are usually the focus on team excellence frameworks, such as the ASQ or the PMI.
Outputs, or outcomes, are the consequences of the team’s actions or activities:
Effectiveness is the extent a project achieves the performance expectations of key project stakeholders. Expectations are usually different for different projects and across different stake-holders; thus, various measures have been used to evaluate effectiveness, usually quality, functionality, or reliability. Effectiveness can be meeting customer/user requirements, meeting project goals or some other related set of measures.
Efficiency is the ability of the project team to meet its budget and schedule goals and utilize resources within constraints Measures include: adherence to budget, adherence to schedule, resource utilization within constraints, etc.
Innovation is the creative accomplishment of teams in generating new ideas, methods, approaches, inventions, or applications and the degree to which the project outputs were novel.
Under this model we can find a various levers to improve out outcomes and enhance the culture of our teams.
The secret to unlocking creativity is not to look for more creative people, but to unlock more creativity from the people who already work for you. The same body of creativity research that finds no distinct “creative personality” is incredibly consistent about what leads to creative work, and they are all things you can implement within your team. Here’s what you need to do:
In this great article Greg Satell lays out what an organization that drives creativity looks like. Facilitating creativity is crucial for continuous improvement and thus a fundamental part of a culture of quality. So let’s break it down.
In order to build expertise our organizations need to be apply to provide deliberate practice: identify the components of a skill, offer coaching, and encourage employees to work on weak areas.
Bring knowledge management to bear to ensure the knowledge behind a skill has been appropriately captured and published. To do this you need to identify who the expert performers currently are.
It is crucial when thinking about deliberate practice to recognize that this is not shallow work, those tasks we can do in our sleep. Unlike chess or weight-lifting you really do not get anything from the 100th validation protocol or batch record reviewed. For work to be of value for deliberate practice it needs to stretch us, to go a little further than before, and give the opportunity for reflection.
It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
The Innovators DNA by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen state that creativity is a function of five key behaviours
Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
Observing: scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge
Exploration can be seen as observing outside your sphere of knowledge, networking and experimenting.
Empower with Technology
Sure, I guess. Call me a luddite but I still think a big wall, lots of post-its, markers and some string work fine for me.
Remember this, we are always in this for the long haul. I think remembering the twelve levers can help give perspective.