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How Building Fearless Teams Unleashes Innovation

How Building Fearless Teams Unleashes Innovation

Companies must create a culture where employees feel empowered to deliver exceptional customer experiences. Here's how to foster a culture of fearlessness and innovation.

As the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution affects all aspects of our lives, customer expectations are being redefined into experiences. Smart brands deepen relationships by delivering the right solution for your issue today, while advising on next issue avoidance, at the right time via the right channel with the minimum level of effort by the customer.

With businesses at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, trailblazing companies know they must continuously adapt and innovate to stay ahead of their customers. Companies must no longer only worry about their top competitor or industry, but rather every other company that is offering a compelling experience. We now know that 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

To remain competitive and stay ahead by delivering value to customers, companies must create a culture where employees feel empowered to deliver exceptional customer experiences. In fact, there is a strong correlation between the customer and employee experience. At the heart of a strong employee or customer experience is a company culture that empowers employees, makes it safe to raise issues, and encourages open but honest collaboration, which is why ”psychological safety” is important to fueling success.

What is psychological safety?

To stay ahead, we’re always focused on what’s next, and one of the key concepts that unleash innovation that we are focused on is psychological safety. According to renowned Professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Without this sense of safety, organizations lose out on ideas, diversity, and opinions because team members don’t raise their hands with new ideas. Furthermore, when someone does not feel they are in a safe environment, they might not raise their hand to voice a concern or potential issue because of their fear of the implications. Without psychological safety, it can be challenging to have a high performing team. 

However, when psychological safety is present, companies can drive better business performance. According to Gallup research, psychological safety can lead to a variety of benefits including: “27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity.”

So how can you improve psychological safety on your team to unleash innovation and create a high-trust environment for your employees? Here are five tips:

Tip 1: Practice continuous learning

While it’s important to learn from failures in order to grow and help avoid pitfalls, leaders and employees can learn to focus more on the learning from the project as opposed to the outcome that it failed. Celebrate employees taking risks and help them to truly understand that failure is okay. If your team misses the mark on a project, take the time to understand what went wrong instead of rushing to find the solution and moving onto the next task. Position failure and challenges as opportunities to learn and problem solve together as a team. As Google X’s Astro Teller once said, “I’m not pro-failure, I’m pro learning.” 

Tip 2: Promote experimentation

A big part of learning and innovating is trying out new ideas and trying new ways of working. Encouraging employees to experiment and test out new ideas and approaches instead of just following the standard protocols is critical to developing new methods. Furthermore, going a step further and creating an expectation that everyone on the team should think outside the box, and ensuring that all employees can participate is a powerful message. Some companies create formal programs or hack days, to promote creativity and ideation, and those are great steps. While formal programs for experimentation are great, so is simply changing the language you use when you talk about ideas. For example, leveraging the design thinking language, consider using an open-ended question, like “how might we?” to promote ideation and idea gathering.

Tip 3: Embrace discomfort

We’ve all felt the anxiety leading up to a difficult conversation. However, if you set a standard that you and your team openly discuss issues and deal with them when they bubble up, you’ll prevent smaller issues from spiraling into real problems. By creating a safe environment to confront tough topics, you’ll be able to surface tough issues in an honest way and be able to move forward. One way to do this is through a “pre-mortem” or “anxiety party.” These are meetings in which teams work together before a project starts and identify any potential concerns, blockers, or things that could potentially hinder the project. By creating an environment where people feel empowered to raise issues, you can spot things before they spiral out of control.

Tip 4: Foster team behaviors

When everyone on your team understands expectations, it makes it much more understandable to know how to work with one another. Try creating a working or team agreement. These are charters that articulate behaviors, values, or norms that are a guide to how teams engage and collaborate, and what you’ll all respect and hold each other accountable to. One of the most valuable parts of this exercise is involving your entire team in the process. Furthermore, being able to refer back to it and check how you are doing against it can help reinforce the behaviors you want to see. 

Tip 5: Learn about each other’s work styles

To bring the best out of your team, consider spending some time working on key enablers of team dynamics, such as taking the time to understand each other’s work styles, communication preferences. One way to do this is by having your entire team create an individual user manual. One way to break down barriers and promote trust and transparency is by having everyone on your team create a “User Manual ” This is a document that articulates who you are, your work style, how to best communicate to you, and how to engage and support you in working together. By having your entire team understand how to communicate best with one another, you can find improved ways of working together and identify how to best collaborate in a productive way.

Ultimately, psychological safety in the workplace is about providing a culture where all employees feel they belong, are included, and can be their full selves. This is fundamentally what people want. Doing so can help your team find success to keep ahead of your customers. 

As Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet likes to say, “People go where they are invited, but they stay where they are welcome.” Everybody wants to feel like they belong, especially in the workplace. When we feel we have a family in our co-workers, it can transform the way we work.

Learn more about how Salesforce creates a culture of innovation. Take the trail.


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