“I dwell in possibility.” -Emily Dickinson 

Are you and your team working to be innovative, relevant, and exceptional? Have you tried “innovation initiatives” and task force work, but found that making measurable change is like steering an ocean liner in iceberg filled waters? 

If so, I have a secret for you: without the proper culture in place, almost every change or innovation initiative is likely doomed to failure. 

But you can drive meaningful change and move your organization forward if you focus on the culture first. With a culture oriented towards change, new initiatives actually take root and create new results.

When working with our clients at ESINC, I often work to help build a culture of change by focusing on 4 key disciplines:

Research – Innovative teams are curious teams. They are far more interested in what others know than what they already know themselves. New knowledge is the foundation for new results.

Retreat – Innovative teams build in time to take a step back so they can take a bigger step forward. They take the time to explore new ideas and perspectives. They find ways to pull out of the hectic day-to-day world of execution so that they can recalibrate and aim for bigger leaps.

Realize – Change oriented teams focus on possibility. Change-resistant cultures focus on flaws and dismiss possibilities. When new opportunities emerge, change-oriented teams are naturally inclined towards action, collaboration, and prototyping.

Reveal – Change-oriented cultures actually do something with their new ideas. They embrace risk, they don’t avoid it. This sort of work requires a culture that supports vulnerability and deals with mistakes in productive ways.

(Side note: If you’re interested in an assessment measuring how innovative your culture is, check out our 4 R’s Team Assessment.) 

Stepping Back to Step Forward

My favorite practice for this time of year is Retreat. The Fall is a great time to take a step back, evaluate what we’ve learned over the year and imagine what possibilities we might prioritize in the year ahead.

Retreat demands that we take a step back from the go-go pace of everyday life. When we are too close, when we don’t stop and force ourselves into a different perspective, it is almost impossible to find new opportunities. 

Unfortunately, leaders often feel too busy to Retreat. It takes courage to take a break from the to-do list, but it’s essential to maximizing performance. It’s like the old saying goes, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Some of the most innovative and effective leaders we know of built the practice of Retreat into their personal routines. Steve Job was famous for taking long walks. Thomas Edison was known to spend hours fishing with no bait. The reason for Edison was simple: “When you fish without bait, people don’t bother you and neither do the fish. It provides me with my best time to think.” 

Here are some common ways to make Retreat a more active part of your personal workflow and your team culture:

  •  Get out from behind the desk. Take breaks. Go for a walk down the halls or down the block. (Don’t stare at your phone while you do this—it defeats the purpose.) Make this a team norm by doing more walking meetings.

  •  Get some sleep! Often, leaders consider a good night’s sleep a luxury they can’t afford. The truth is, if they’re going to find that breakthrough path forward—sleep is something they can not afford to sacrifice. If your team looks exhausted, be wary of lauding it as a battle scar to be admired. Instead, encourage your team to renew and refuel.

  •  Get your team out of the office. A new setting sets the stage for new thinking. If you’ve been having the same conversation over and over in the same conference room, change the surrounding and the conversation will follow.

  •  Use an outside facilitator for your next meeting. Running a meeting is just another to-do. It’s hard to steer the ship and gaze from the crow’s nest at the same time.

  •  Schedule a real-deal, multi-day retreat. I’ve never heard a client complain that their year would have been more successful if “they hadn’t wasted time on that retreat”. When we invest properly in Retreat, it amplifies our results.

So, here’s the most important question: What can you do today to use the power of Retreat to shift your own team’s trajectory?



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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.