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How to encourage initiative in your team

Collaboration, Teamwork

I was chatting to a potential client recently about the subject of initiative. Whilst it’s closely related to the creative mindset, I realised I’d never given the subject thought on it’s own, So, here’s how I would go about covering the topic of “initiative”.

First, similarly to creativity, initiative benefits from a team with the right elements in place to encourage it – especially psychological safety, autonomy and meaning – see “What makes a great team?

Then one can go about encouraging individuals to act with initiative when it’s right to do so:

  • Develop empathy & curiosity: think from a customer’s perspective to understand them more deeply. In my innovation workshops I often use an empathy mapping exercise and worksheet to help people do this.
  • Step in: don’t wait for others to tell you what to do – think quickly and use your judgement to provide what’s required at the point of need. Use the autonomy given to you by your leader.
  • Take control: use emergent leadership to take charge when the time is right.
  • Be action-oriented: if you can do something today, do it today. Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – so take on extra tasks and you’ll find time to complete them.
  • Identify problems: use “hindsight in advance” to spot problems before they occur. I often use the pre-mortem technique with teams in strategy workshops.
  • Strive for better: raise your standards to raise your performance. Here it’s interesting to look at continuous improvement and marginal gains.
  • Be honest: ask yourself honestly – could you have done better in a certain situation? Be honest with your colleagues too – could they expect more from you?
  • Be resilient: often others won’t be as committed as you to high performance – it’s important to maintain your momentum and influence them to be better too.
  • Remember why: think about the values of your team, organisation and stakeholders – and about your own personal values too. Self-efficacy and self-esteem count here.

Initiative is a really good topic for team building – I’d recommend all teams think about the level of initiative team members show, and how to encourage it further.

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