Encourage Outside-the-Box Thinking in Your Team

At Integrity, one of our core values is “Dance Along the Edge.” Our team is empowered to take worthwhile risks, to look for innovative solutions, and to reach for the fruit that’s there to be harvested for those willing to go out on a limb. We believe it’s one of the reasons our team is so successful at maintaining its edge on the forefront of our industry.

Staying inside the box may be safe, familiar, tried-and-true. But it also means that skills and knowledge don’t get updated. People complain and point fingers without trying to solve the problem. And the organization falls farther and farther behind.

Integrity leadership uses the following techniques to promote open-mindedness, creativity and responsibility — the key qualities needed for outside-the-box thinking.

Look for new ideas everywhere.

Leaders must model the behaviors they want from employees. Show your curiosity, “what if” mentality and awareness of advances in all types of industry. Look what happened when a McDonald’s executive visited a bank drive-through: he invented the drive-through restaurant. Where you lead, team members will follow.

Keep an eye on new product and technology advances. Even if it’s not intended for your industry, is there a way it could be turned to your advantage?

Turn failure into a learning opportunity.

Remember the story about a 3M scientist who thought he had failed at formulating a new glue: he invented Post-It Notes. Things will go wrong; mistakes will be made. It’s how you handle those events that give people the confidence to overcome obstacles and devise better ways of working.

Attempts at out-of-the-box thinking are, by their untried nature, especially vulnerable to failure. Determining what went wrong and why should not be the end of that adventure. It should be just the first step in creating change for ultimate success. The role of the team leader should be to support team members, focus on solutions and be open to novel ideas.

Promote diversity.

It’s well-proven that diverse teams are better and faster at solving problems and coming up with new ideas, thanks to their wider pool of skillsets and viewpoints. A team composed of a variety of cultural, ethnic and gender identities is also better able to cope with hard times; it’s survival of the fittest, as you might say.

Recognize out-of-the-box efforts.

Take a look at which achievements you tend to reward. Is it mostly when people play it safe, play by the rules? Or do you also praise employees who tried to stretch their capabilities, even if they occasionally didn’t reach the goal?

Make team members feel valued for their contribution, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem at first glance. Help them develop their ideas and decide which risks are worth taking.

Start small.

Unless your organization is in crisis, there’s no need to throw away the box entirely. Look before you leap: test customers’ response to your suggested changes before making any major investment. For example, diversifying too far beyond your specialty may meet with disbelief in your ability to provide the same quality in a new field.

Jumping out of the box will be scary for some, exhilarating for others. In the long run, though, everyone will profit.