Will Salyards
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Will Salyards, PhD Blog

Life, Career, Leadership

Innovative Teams

Of the three leadership elements within the Occupy Movement, distributed leadership, non-hierarchical leadership, and teams, its use of teams certainly contributed to its rapid expansion. Interestingly, writing this some time after that first review has allowed a longer look at the initial spread of the movement and how these same elements could be at use in our organizations. Teams and Innovation

Teams are prized for their efficiency – they simply are an excellent workflow method. However, beyond efficiency teams can, when given freedom to innovate, become the leading edge that advances the mission of the organization. Larry Page and Sergey Brin did this at Google and discovered that by not having a line of managerial authority from top to bottom teams were empowered, enabled, and encouraged to act in the best interests of the organization. I think it reveals a fundamental truth about people: we can and want to find a way to make something better.

Perhaps what prevents us from achieving the “better” is when innovation is stifled by excess control or unmotivated members don’t engage. Accepting either is to accept maintenance at the expense of mission and inaction over action. The resulting unused and unusable energy becomes organizational malaise; it’s called entropy. The more unused and unusable energy within a group and hence low member engagement and/or innovation, the more likely that the organization and its team’s initiative, function, and output will suffer, even degrade.

Achieving the "Better"

The good news is that teams can move an organization away from entropy and toward the innovative edge of mission. But to do it, they must be founded in the notion of freedom – accountable - but free to act. In my understanding it is this freedom to act that occurred at Occupy. There, teams formed not in response to a need for organization but around key mission priorities.

What resulted was organic, real, and at the heart of all the organization represented. People then gravitated to these epicenters of creativity and joined in an aspect of mission that resonated with them. The result was that their participation was willing and not coerced nor based in maintenance but in mission. The outcome was innovation and by it expansion.

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