April 2011 Articles

Every day people try and answer the question “Why do-I-do what I do?”. The people that ask that question aren’t always working for the right organization or employed in the right position.

It should be the goal of businesses and organizations to seek out and recruit individuals whose passions and interests align closely with their work. Such overlapping interests will drive the members of the team to give their all, and the organization that employs them will reap the benefits of their passion. While one must always be wary of the passionate individual who does nothing productive, if an organization’s goals are clearly laid out and an element of leadership is present to direct the team, passionate individuals will help move an organization to meet its goal.

Passion is not a singular ingredient when it comes to a successful organization, though I argue it is a key component. The second key component, when it comes to investment of individuals in the mission of an organization, is giving those individuals the freedom to be creative and explore their ideas. Creativity comes in many shapes and sizes and from a variety of different personality types, employed in different areas. Each member of an organization must be free to pursue tangents, investigate similar organizations and learn from past projects. When team members are given permission to explore, they will undoubtedly serve both their own interests and the interest of the organization as they discover and imagine new ways to do business.

Placement of these individuals within the team is also a key component of success. I would be remiss to say that simply assembling a group of passionate people yields success. It may in the short term, but an organizational structure is also a key component when it comes to long term success and stability. While the traditional organization chart or explicit leadership hierarchy conveys levels of power and decision making, it does not allow for the individuals within the organization to move freely and be used efficiently. A fluid organizational structure where roles are defined, but a hierarchy is not, will be more successful in the long run as everyone is on equal footing when it comes to giving ideas and determining direction. Such a fluid organizational structure works well within small teams, and that team must then have members that report to a centralized team composed of members from all the teams.

A fluid structure has its own hierarchy where people come together to make decisions instead of working decisions up a ladder. Tribes of people spread out geographically represent the perfect analogy when looking at successful organizational structure. Like a team, tribes are separated geographically and must work together to be successful. They make decisions internally with the best interests of the team in mind. When a question of conflict arises, individuals from the various tribes come together to determine the best course of action; be it the dissolution of the tribe, its integration into other tribes or some other inventive idea. Similarly, teams must always be driven both to succeed by themselves as well as conscious of the other teams around them, so that together the teams can achieve success.

Organizations must function as active, cohesive communities in which everyone has a voice and the needs of individuals are addressed. Forgetting that your business or organization is made of live, social people and not by desk jockeys will yield your team inefficient and ineffective in the long run. It is the application and implementation of these ideas where many organizations struggle. First and foremost, new ideas and opportunities should not only be accepted within the organization, but should be actively encouraged. The teammate whose (self-assessed) great ideas are never recognized or given the opportunity for critique will sink the same team she joined to help. It’s not that she wants the team to fail, but rather that she is not being valued, encouraged or supported by her team.

By creating and supporting an active community - a true community where people talk and share ideas, criticisms, hopes and worries - an organization has laid the foundation for success. Active communication and creative ideas when properly directly, critiqued and built upon, will lead an organization to new innovations. Such inventiveness, when grown and encouraged day-in and day-out will set your organization apart over time from competitors and less cohesive teams.

The “spirit of innovation” is not something you can coach, force or create; it must be cultivated within an organization. When creative ideas flow and teammates are actively engaged with each other in productive, inventive, and social ways, new products and services can be developed whose benefits can be reaped both by their creators and by those around them. For innovative organizations do not make an impact simply by creating something new, but rather by using it to serve the people around them.