People with the ability to think on their feet are becoming ever more crucial to the workplace. Teams that consist of self-starting, inquisitive, creative initiative-takers drive better business performance and stimulate operations that are agile, responsive and resilient.
But some things are easier to accomplish in theory than in practice. Taking the initiative is a bit like walking onto the stage of America’s Got Talent and launching into a song you've never sung before. It means putting yourself "out there" and assuming the risk of failure, and not everyone is comfortable doing that.
Equally, there are managers who pay lip service to the idea of team initiative but secretly prefer to micromanage. They're happy only when theirs is the sole hand on the tiller.
So how do you go about getting team members to step up and take responsibility for their own work? And what's the motivation behind managers who step back and allow people's resourcefulness to shine? We decided to throw these questions out to you, our friends, followers and contacts on social media. We wanted to hear your top tips for fostering initiative in teams.
As usual, we were delighted by the quantity and quality of your responses. Here's a selection of your suggestions.
A common theme was the importance of giving team members a voice in decision making. Martin Hipwell, a first aid trainer from Shaugh Prior in the UK, emphasized the importance of listening to people and including them in discussions. Facebook friend Kathleen Kilian backed this up, suggesting that you "ask team members what obstacles and opportunities they see and what they think we should do about them. Help them to plan a way to deal with and measure the success of it."
Alpesh Trivedi, a product manager from Hornchurch in the UK, suggested that recognizing and valuing people like this within a business "leads to natural initiatives."
Lori Boxer from Oakhurst, New Jersey, says that inviting ideas and suggestions from employees into the decision-making process has other benefits, too. "It can help management identify those employees who may have leadership qualities and groom them to become future leaders within the organization,” Lori says. However, she adds the proviso that "the confidence for employees to do that will come only if they have clear knowledge about the intended direction of the company and what the goals are, and that is only possible when leadership/management involves employees in their discussions and learning sessions."
Several of you suggested formalizing the need for people to show initiative. Loren Margolis, a leadership development expert from New York City, collaborates with team members to plan their own SMART goals. "Use a reward and recognition program" too, she says, and remember to "give feedback along the way."
John Williams from Hampton, Georgia, made a similar point. He says that "behavior incented is repeated" and suggests making initiative "a part of job expectations and a significant part of how you formally/informally evaluate performance." Alpesh Trivedi spoke of a need to "support employees to take the lead by constant direction and mentoring."
Follow the Leader
Our Twitter followers emphasized how leaders and managers can impact the levels of initiative within their teams. Contributor @BrainBlenderTec from Canada spoke of how inspiration is contagious: "If leaders show passion in projects, it catches and, like a relay, it inspires the next person to take the baton and run."
Victoria Baxter (@vbaxter), a lecturer and learning technologist, spoke of how managers can make a difference by "giving teams space to try out new methods or solutions and explaining that failure is a chance to grow and improve."
Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in their top tips, and our apologies to those people whose replies did not get a mention this time. If you have any other suggestions or advice that you'd like to share, it's not too late – you can still have your say by adding your comments in the box below. And for more ideas, check out our article on Preventing Manager Dependency.