Our species evolved to its dominant role on planet earth because of our unique ability to thrive in small groups.
Yes, many animal species famously perform important functions in groups -- packs of wolves, pods of dolphins, and the like.
But what makes humans special is our ability to not just perform tasks in groups, but to share and develop ideas in groups.
In other words, we don't just perform tasks like hunting or traveling in groups to make them more efficient or more safe; we actually come up with entirely new methods for acquiring food and transporting ourselves from one place to another.
Look around. We're the only the beings on this planet that actually do this at scale.
Now let's bring it into a modern context.
What allows one group of humans to succeed more than another?
Just like humans evolved beyond other animals and mammals because of our ability to create, share, and expand on ideas together, we now live in a world where groups of humans (e.g. teams and organizations) succeed beyond other groups of humans because of this same ability.
The teams and organizations that have the best processes for discovering and implementing new ideas are the ones that usually survive and thrive in the long-term.
So what makes one team or organization better than another at finding and executing new ideas? The first step is for leadership to create an environment of enthusiastic sharing among team members.
And here are three essential components you will find in any environment that inspires enthusiastic sharing over the long haul:
1. A "safe space" for sharing
The term "safe space" can be a loaded and oft-misunderstood one. Let me clear about what I mean.
If you want people to feel both free and enthusiastic about sharing ideas, they need to feel safe from personal attacks. In other words, the environment needs to view ideas as ideas, not as identity markers of the person who presents them.
The ideas themselves don't need to be kept safe from critique or deconstruction. That would be counter-productive. But people need to feel safe from personal critiques and deconstruction based on the ideas they present.
If this isn't in place, people will be much more reticent about presenting their ideas, because we all naturally (even subconsciously) go to great lengths to protect our egos.
Creating a "safe space" for sharing simply means creating a space with the potential to be an ego-free sharing zone -- assuming team members can hold up their ends of the bargain and detach themselves from their ideas too.
2. Clarity on who makes the final decision
Another way to ensure that your space is conducive for productive sharing is for everyone to clearly understand who will make the final decision.
Without clarity on this matter, idea sharing can devolve into posturing over who should have final say on the matter being discussed. This can present both implicit and explicit impediments to idea sharing and exploration as people focus more on their own perceived status in the group than they do simply being a member of the group.
Also, without clarity on who makes the final decision, there may not be a belief that any decision will be made or subsequent action taken. And without a belief that their ideas have the potential to go anywhere, people may feel it's a waste of time to share what they're thinking.
That will kill enthusiasm quickly.
And on a related note ...
3. A belief that the best idea will be chosen
This goes right to heart of people's motivation to share ideas.
But the motivation isn't simply that people want their idea chosen; it's that to buy into working for the common good and the success of the group, they want to know that the best idea will be chosen.
If you believe that the best idea will ultimately win out, you are more likely to give your idea its most enthusiastic presentation possible while also listening with an open mind to other ideas.
But if you believe that some other factor will hold the greatest influence over the final decision (e.g. politics, nepotism, personal relationships), then you are less likely to have the motivation or enthusiasm to give your idea the advocacy it deserves or other ideas the attention they deserve.
Similar to #2, what's the point if the effort won't matter?
This may not be an exhaustive list of components needed to creative an environment of enthusiastic sharing, but my guess is that the vast majority of such environments include at least all three of these components ... plus more.
What other components do you think are essential for creating an environment where people are enthusiastic to share their ideas? Hit reply and let me know.
Now here are a few resources about this topic that you may find useful ...
You won't get enough of the right ideas without building the right environment
"As a leader, your role is to knock down walls and develop an environment that evokes creative thinking from your team. The team needs to feel that their voice is appreciated and that they have room to do cool things. Let them test their ideas, see what works and what could be improved, and make sure they know that they have to opportunity to do so."
Read: 15 Ways To Encourage Creative Idea Sharing From All Team Members (Forbes Council)
Leadership makes all the difference
"In the groups that had high levels of collaborative behavior, the team leaders clearly made a significant difference. The question in our minds was how they actually achieved this. The answer, we saw, lay in their flexibility as managers."
Watch: Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams (Harvard Business Review)
Don't give up on the quiet ones!
"Chances are, even if your organization has the most receptive leaders its employees have ever worked for, some manager in the past has squashed a great idea or even retaliated against them for speaking up. The tragic truth is that many of these memories are from the distant past. If you want to free employees’ best ideas from the prison of safety, it will take more than having skilled leaders who ask great questions; it’s also important to help employees overcome their FOSU (fear of speaking up) scar tissue."
Read: How to Help Reluctant Team Members Share Their Great Ideas (Training Industry)
Quote of the week
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
-- Charles Darwin