Four Ways to Create a Growth Mindset Team

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Feb 22, 2018

In my experience leading and working with teams — whether they’re startups, groups of engineers, or global leadership — there are a few things that have really stood out to drive success.

First, leaders and team members have to be willing to “stand up” to lead or drive initiatives and to “show up” consistently as doers who take action to drive progress. Second, they have to be willing to do more work. This doesn’t mean more hours per se, but it does mean they have to work outside of their comfort zones. Finally, they have to be enthusiastically willing to learn and develop new skills.

This is how growth mindsets show up in real life. If you’re looking for a clear description of growth-minded people, my favorite is from a Harvard Business Review article by Carol Dweck: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others).” I have seen firsthand, throughout my career collaborating with colleagues and with RallyBright clients, proof of Dweck’s conclusion that when companies adopt this way of thinking their employees are more empowered and committed.

The resilience connection

The research we’ve done on teams at RallyBright has shown us that resilience is the defining characteristic of teams that achieve sustained high performance. By resiliency we mean the ability to engage with opportunity, persist through challenges, recover quickly from setbacks and learn from these experiences to move forward wiser and better. To truly be resilient, teams need to possess the distinct and separate skills — those of direction, connection, alignment, performance and attitude — that drive resilience.

Cultivating a growth mindset is key to high performance and resilience because it’s about attitude. A winning attitude starts with a hunger for constant learning and an openness to new ideas. Most teams we see who lean more toward a fixed mindset on the spectrum of fixed to growth would do better to more heartily embrace setbacks and failure, recognizing them as experiences necessary for building greater agility and deeper capabilities.

How can teams get there? Here are four ways leaders can help drive a growth mindset — specifically for teams — from the top.

1. Develop growth-mindset team members

Teams won’t behave with a growth mindset just because they’re made of growth-mindset individuals. Teams are their own entity and members collectively create the mindset of the team. However, teams typically don’t move to the growth zone unless the members have that mindset first. It’s a bit of a paradox, I know.

While some people are naturally more growth-oriented, I have also seen many individuals start out with more of a fixed mindset and evolve towards growth. However, this transformation is gradual and anything but magical. It takes a conscious decision by the individual and support from leadership. Everyone has to “show up” and do the work.

Here are three ways you can encourage members of your team:

  1. Request that team members set personal goals and be accountable for working towards and achieving them. They have to “stand up” and commit to growth.
  2. Provide the resources, such as training and networking opportunities, for employees to learn new skills they need. Team members need to trust that they are supported.
  3. Encourage and celebrate brainstorming and out-of-the-box thinking. Team members need to feel safe to speak up.

2. Hire from within

Harvard Business Review reported that companies with a fixed mindset culture tend to hire based on credentials and accomplishments. This typically means hiring people who think they are more talented than others. These hires are often not happy in a team-based environment because they are not “the star.” Dweck recommends looking instead for people who love challenges and want to grow and collaborate.

It’s challenging to determine if someone has these characteristics from glancing at a resume or spending a 90-minute interview with them. Instead, look to fill open positions with current employees. You know your team — their strengths, vulnerabilities and attitudes — and you know who demonstrates the attitude needed for a growth mindset. By promoting these types of people, the enthusiasm and passion begin to filter down, leading to a growth-mindset organization as a whole.

3. Help the team become a high-performance team

It’s impossible for a team to become a growth-mindset team if it remains a mere working group rather than performing as a team. (We define a working group as a loose collection of individuals brought together by managers or other leaders to report on their respective businesses.)

Here are a few ways to encourage team development:

  • Have teams set their goals on a regular basis.
  • Allow teams the flexibility to learn for themselves how to best operate as a unit.
  • Provide time, space and resources for teams to build relationships both inside and outside the work environment.
  • Encourage teams to celebrate wins.

4. Give teams permission to fail

In a growth-mindset team, sometimes things won’t work as planned. But people won’t be open to more growth-mindset behaviors if they’re worried about repercussions. Brad Staats, of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, found overemphasis on success to be the main reason organizations don’t learn and grow — because focusing on success tends to lead to a fixed mindset. Encourage creativity and risk taking, and let the rest of the company see the process — not just the results.

One strategy that often works to create a culture of risk-taking is to approach products and platforms as perpetual beta. Because betas are viewed as work in progress, experimenting and innovating are viewed as part of the process. This gives the team permission to experiment and improve on the idea in stages, which is often how organizations see really big transformations.

As a leader, you already know that people are your biggest asset. When you build teams that are constantly moving forward with innovative thinking and agility, your employees become even more invaluable. This is the sweet spot — the place where your employees are engaged and the company sees the highest success. It doesn’t start with sophisticated technology or complicated processes. Success starts at the basics — building a growth-mindset team.