Shaping Innovative Space

Despite every HR professional’s attempts at making the workplace amenable to all employees, such that they perform at a high level, people will naturally gravitate toward those they have something in common with. For example, similar thinking, aspirations, education, family composition, and shared experiences are all points of commonality that draw people together into cohesive groups.

Cliques, as they were called in high school, were more divisive than helpful but in business they are where information is shared more quickly and trust is exchanged at higher levels. In these groups there may one or more leaders that stand out as the person(s) that everyone looks to for a way forward when things get scattered, like when an organization needs to come up with new solutions to customers problems. Yet, within the cohesive group, although there is trust and free flowing information, that is not enough to crack the hard problems. The leaders of these groups are in the best position to be brokers between groups because they are typically emotionally intelligent and savvy enough to traverse between groups without crossing any group etiquette boundaries.

In the business world, much like high school, there are groups that serve their purpose within the overall culture. More specifically, there are two primary groups in business contexts that co-exist in every organization.

Operational Group

There is the operational group which enables the standardized performance of an organization to be timely, complete and accurate. This group typically consists of members of the in-house accounting, financial planning & analysis (FP&A) and administrative operations teams. The people that comprise these teams are characteristically analytical, priority driven, and structured. For these groups, details and compliance rule the day, balanced financials and transactions within budgetary expectations are celebration worthy. While control and accountability drive these people, strokes of perfectionism and structure color their nature.

Entrepreneurial Group

Conversely, the entrepreneurial group ushers in the learning and knowledge transfer within an organization. This group’s members are embedded in the sales and marketing teams, really enjoy their roles in business development and could possibly be hiding as customer service representatives. These people creative and idealistic. Metaphorically speaking, the thrill of the hunt gets these people going because its an adventure that requires being creative, thinking on your feet and adjusting to varying conditions. Flexibility and resourcefulness shape the actions of these people but they are also self-motivated and overwhelmingly optimistic.

Central to the promoting innovation and cultivating an innovative culture is the leader mobilizing the entrepreneurial and operational groups

Leaders Challenge

The challenge for business leaders is not to reduce the conflict between these two groups but to encourage it. I’m not saying that the leader should be like “Mean Gene” Okerlund stepping in between a free-for-all between two behemoths…

No not at all, but the leader should encourage positive conflict in that way that competition brings out the best in competitors. Leaders understand that these groups want the same thing but go about it in different ways and ensures that the groups don’t play dirty or loose sight of the overall objective, which is to gain a competitive advantage in their market and create value for the organization and their customers.

Shape the Adaptive Space

One of the keys to encouraging the friction between the groups is creating a space for these groups to communicate. Not just communicate aimlessly but communicate with an underlying focus. This way the true essence of the groups is not filtered and the out of bounds lines are clear. In the Complex Leadership Theory, this is referred to the Adaptive space, where the collaboration between the groups is dynamically bridged through the brokers within the groups. This space enables the entrepreneurial groups to be creative and fervently optimistic about the most outlandish ideas. Equally important, the adaptive space prevents the operational group, who traditionally squashes outside the box ideas that run contrary to budget expectations and financial analytics, and ultimately snuffing out the creative spirit that’s so necessary to be innovative and agile in today’s volatile markets.