How to Drive Engagement and Performance with Team-Based Collaboration

We are part of an unprecedented work environment, with technology changing on a seemingly daily basis and teams working together from all corners of the world. Some of us may feel the need to compete with our colleagues to stay ahead in—or even just keep up with—today’s ever-changing business environment. But if you want to create a collaborative workplace culture that will produce breakthrough results that digital, agile, and other business transformations are built to achieve, then collaboration trumps competition by a long shot.

Making Uniqueness Useful

A recent HBR Big Idea Series, The Power of Hidden Teams, discusses the results of the ADP Research Institute’s global engagement study, which found that most of the work, in every industry, in every region of the world, and at every level in an organization is actually teamwork. The article states that 83% of workers say they do most of their work in teams, and that the team is the reality of people’s experience at work. The authors conclude that it is the quality of this team experience that impacts the quality of people’s overall work experience. This reinforces the notion of team-based collaboration as a lever for improving engagement and performance at work, as well as for enhancing organizational functionality. As the authors put it, teams are “the best method we humans have ever devised to make each person’s uniqueness useful.”

Emerging Tribal, Networked, and Collective Structures

While traditional, hierarchical organizations get bogged down with status, power plays, and “red tape,” collaborative organizations adopt a more fluid and loose structure. Individuals are given greater responsibility to take smart risks and make decisions appropriate to their role and the task concerned. In collaborative organizations:

  • Team members have a hunger to learn and are willing to continually improve and learn by doing.
  • Individuals recognize the need to change the broader working environment and are trusted to implement and sustain the desired changes, including governance processes and funding models and processes.
  • There are investments in software tooling and automation to support people to work smarter and faster.

Examples of Collaborative Workplace Cultures

New, inspirational, and adaptive models for embedding team-based collaborative workplace culture have evolved that are timely, agile, and relevant for 21st-century organizations. Our research indicates that there are four collaborative constructs for organizations to explore:

  1. Teams and teaming: These teams are defined by what they are trying to achieve, may be transient, and are made up of a collection of diverse and different roles required to complete the purpose, goals, or tasks. By sharing their complementary skills, knowledge, and experience, they can contribute to a particular task, problem, creative conversation, discussion, or activity through effective team processes, trusted relationships, role clarity, and mutual accountability. Australia Post’s structure is a great illustration of teams and teaming:
  2. “A typical team at Australia Post has a business analyst, a designer, a tester, several developers and an “iteration manager” who operates like a conductor, managing the workflow to get the best out of the team. Gough says he looks for “T-shaped people” who have deep knowledge of their specialist area (the vertical part of the “T”) but know enough about other areas to help out if needed (the horizontal part of the “T”).”

  3. Tribes: ANZ uses terminology from the so-called “Spotify model,” where it arranges workers into “tribes” of 150 people and breaks down those tribes further into between 20 and 30 squads. Each squad has a mix of people and skills to enable it to function autonomously and be self-contained. Differences and diversity are maximized through creating discord, disagreement, and even conflict to co-create generative solutions. The example below on tribes is excerpted from IT News’ coverage of ANZ’s Agile transformation:
  4. “Getting cross-tribe collaboration is something we’re really working hard on again now to go ‘How do we keep people aligned across tribes so that we don’t reinvent the same problem and solve it in one tribe and then solve the same problem in another tribe? Part of the solution to that is to have “cross-tribe collaboration groups called chapters and guilds”—essentially comprising people with common interests and experience—such as user experience—that have the remit to roam across tribes.”

  5. Collectives: These are larger groups of individuals, connected by technology, who self-organize and work together on common projects without relying on internal hierarchies. They may exist temporarily or over long periods. Membership is voluntary and people willingly share knowledge, skills, resources, experience, and wisdom to create a free, transparent, and safe space where people are motivated to contribute to the whole or the common good. Popular funding platform Kickstarter is a well-known collective working toward their mission to “help bring creative projects to life”:
  6. “We work as a team. Team Kickstarter is only just over a hundred people—still a tight-knit group, considering everything that’s happened so far. Every week brings new challenges, and every week we work together to meet them. […] We like to be happy, healthy, and inspired. […] We’re working to build something meaningful and lasting. We try to approach everything we do thoughtfully.”

  7. Ecosystem: A business ecosystem is a network of organizations—including suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and academic institutions—that get involved in the delivery of a specific product or service by cooperating and collaborating internally. The goal is to compete externally by driving new collaborations to address rising social and environmental challenges by harnessing creativity and innovation to lower the cost of production or allow members to reach new customers; accelerating the learning process to effectively collaborate and share insights, skills, expertise, and knowledge; and creating new ways to address fundamental human needs and desires. Deloitte provides a deeper look at business ecosystems as part of their Business Trends series, including this non-profit case:
  8. “Take as an example the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a non-profit organization whose members include many of the world’s largest food producers, distributors, and retailers. It helps coordinate a global, co-creative, and collaborative approach to addressing the growing challenge in a global food system of ensuring safety for consumers and protecting the reputation of the industry. Some of its members compete ferociously in their markets, but also collaborate aggressively to ensure the certification, shared standards, superior monitoring, and shared learning and leading practices that together create a safer food industry and boost consumer confidence.”

In a Nutshell

As Adam Kahane states in his new book, Collaborating with the Enemy:

“Collaboration doesn’t mean that either you prevail & get what you want, or both of you sacrifice & meet somewhere in the middle. The higher potential of collaboration with diverse others is that together you’ll be able to understand more of your situation & so will be able to create new options that are better than the ones you’d been able to imagine or implement separately—better than forcing, adapting or exiting.”

Adopting some of these new models enables organizations, teams, and their leaders to shift their focus from defensive competition to constructive collaboration. Their goal is to create high-performing, collaborative workplace cultures where people feel safe, have the time and space to deeply connect and co-create value, and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives.

The best way to achieve that goal is through building trust, creating discord and conflict to generate creative ideas and innovative solutions, focusing more on co-creation, and emphasizing collaboration instead of competition.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from

Fostering a Fearless Culture by Reframing Our Response to Failure

In a previous post, I shared what it means to cultivate a “fail-fast” organisational culture, what typically happens when people experience failure, and how essential it is to detach people’s fears about failure and enable them to normalize their concerns and anxieties. I described that when people fail, they unconsciously sink into a series of reactive responses that engage them neurologically and emotionally resulting in a range of irrational, cognitive (thinking and feeling) distortions, which usually involves disappointment, confusion and shame.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, offers a courageous reframe on failure:

“If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we can make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. This is why I make appoint of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because they teach us something important: being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. My goal is not to drive out fear completely, because fear is inevitable in high-stakes situations. What I want is to loosen its grip on us. While we don’t want too many failures, we must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.”

Cultivate teachable and coachable moments

When an individual or team experiences failure, a useful strategy is to support and encourage them to hit their “pause button”—to take a moment, retreat and reflect, and become aware of their unconscious auto-response. This allows people the time and space to take a “reflective stance” and connect with their range of thoughts and feelings, and to the results they caused.

Illustrated in the diagram below, working this way creates a safe space allowing an individual to connect with and acknowledge their pain and fear of shame and being shamed. It also allows the creation of a new space where someone has both the permission and trust to become self-compassionate, inquisitive, and curious about why or how the failure happened and what can be learned.

fail fast model


Choose a Constructive response to failure

Hitting the “pause button” and creating the safe space for immersing mindfully into what happened creates an opportunity to dwell on what might become a teachable and coachable moment. This involves using the specific question patterning outlined in the diagram above to generate a new, more resourceful operating pattern to apply the next time a failure occurs.

This allows the individual or team to take responsibility by acknowledging that their position of power and control is within themselves. That when they step into it and own it, they can continually learn from mistakes and failures, and coach and teach their people to do so as well.

This way of working allows people to apply mistakes and failures as teachable and coachable moments so that people become less risk-averse, defensive and avoidant. It can be used to empower people to become authentically creative, compassionate, courageous, decisive, smart risk-takers and business game-changers.

Drive out fear and normalize failure

Normalizing and using failure as pivot points unleashes peoples’ potential for innovation and enables organisations to build the critical, cultural change foundations necessary to adapt, grow, and out-innovate their competitors.

Cultivate trust in the workplace

One of the key points that Catmull makes is about creating an environment where trust becomes an inherent part of the workplace culture. He says,

“Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes. It means that if they do, you trust they will act to help solve it.”

This requires a constructive organisation culture and leadership style that embraces patience and acceptance, transparency and authenticity, and consistency and compassion.

It requires leaders to role model a way of working that assumes people come from the best intention and want to see, respond to, and solve problems creatively.

Survive, thrive, and onward

Organisations who courageously confront the challenges of the 21st century will survive, thrive, flow and flourish by developing an organisational culture that interprets and applies failure as a manifestation of exploration and learning, rather than trying to avoid or out-think it!


Cultivating a Fail Fast Culture

Cultivating a Fail Fast Culture

I recently met with a client responsible for organizational development in the financial services sector who was seeking ideas, information, and input from ImagineNation™ towards cultivating a “fail fast” organizational culture. It caused me to explore what might be some of the key messages that could be sent to people to create permission, vulnerability, safety, courage, and trust for the deep learnings that mistakes and failure provide in advancing creativity, invention, and innovation.

How could developing a “fail fast” culture help organizations survive, flow, and flourish with high levels of ambiguity, uncertainty, volatility, and instability in the operating environment?

What does “fail fast” mean in its original context?

In software development, the intention is to discover and detect where a potential problem might occur in the overall process to speed it up and minimise time and costs. The focus is on iterating and steering the project to success as it develops rather than creating a lot of software before showing it to the end user – to minimize the risks involved in their acceptance of it. This enables developers to test their products and get immediate customer feedback to ensure that what is being developed is in tune and aligned with what customer’s think they might want or want.

How can failure be perceived as feedback?

Doing this builds customer intimacy and empathy as to what constitutes value in their eyes because feedback, whether positive or negative, is an important enabler towards adapting and responding quickly and continuously.

Learning from this agile way of working, we can see that it takes the “heat” out of “failure” as an emotional word, a visceral experience, and perpetration against someone. Once a vivid picture of success has been envisaged it allows us to potentially reframe failure as “feedback.” That enables people and organizations to adapt, respond, iterate, pivot and continuously improve behaviours, systems, and processes to provide increased value for people and customers.

What is the scientific rationale for failure?

Scientists operate under the basic and rational principle that that get things right by analysing what went wrong.

In his book, “Failure: Why Science Is So Successful,” Stuart Firestein states that “Virtually all of science is a failure that is an end in itself. This is because scientific discoveries and facts are provisional. Science is constantly being revised. It may be successful for a time; it may remain successful even after it has been shown to be wrong in some essential way.”

What gets in the way of applying this rationale?

Growing up in western civil societies and school systems, we learn to see failure as a mistake, as some kind of shortcoming, stupidity or imperfection that we are responsible for and feel ashamed about.

We often feel that we must make excuses for it and apologise for it. In fact, we live in a world where governments fail, relationships fail, businesses fail – so none of these failures are a cause for celebration and could be considered as mere signs of ideas in progress.

According to Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation, “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are the inevitable consequence of doing something new (and as such, should be valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).”

Visceral reactions to failure

When we fail, we unconsciously sink into a series of reactive responses that engage us neurologically and emotionally resulting in a range of irrational cognitive (thinking and feeling) distortions, which usually involves disappointment, confusion, and shame.

We then move away from and avoid solving the problem because of these pervasive un-resourceful states and act defensively, which usually involves laying blame, justification and excuses and even denial.


This is the very opposite of what most scientists are programmed to do, which is to get things right by analysing what went wrong. This is often a very useful trial and error and iterative process, and according to Catmull, who has failed more times than we can imagine, it’s important: “To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.”

Being wrong and judged

When we are made to feel “wrong” (by our own internal processing or externally by others), we know that we both self-judge and that others will make a judgment about us. When we find ourselves being judged in this way, especially for making any kind of mistake, that people make unfair and often generalised and distorted assessment of us and then delete all of our other abilities.

Be-coming the failure

This affects us deeply and in effect, we “be-come” the failure, feel violated, disappointed, ashamed and fearful of its punitive consequences: being fired, disregarded for promotions and special projects, and may even be required to “fall on your sword” at the expense of others.

Taking a reflective stance

When we are willing to take a reflective stance and hit our “pause button” and “work with” what really goes on when mistakes and failures are involved, we can cultivate the self-awareness, self-regulation, and ultimately, the self-mastery to deal with it consciously and constructively.

Uncoupling failure

We can uncouple our own and teach and coach others how to uncouple their fears to support and enable people to “normalize” failure, and develop tolerance to surprises and problems and shift the way we think and feel about making changes and taking risks.

Failure is a manifestation of learning, exploration, and leadership

As Catmull says in his book, Creativity, Inc.:

If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: you are being driven by a desire to avoid it. And for leaders, especially, this strategy – trying to avoid failure by outthinking it – dooms you to fail.

If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we can make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. This is why I make appoint of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar because they teach us something important: being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them.

My goal is not to drive out fear completely because fear is inevitable in high stake situations. What I want is to loosen its grip on us. While we don’t want too many failures, we must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.

Failing forward

Leaders who enable and empower people to think, feel, and act in this way will advance change, creativity, invention, and innovation in their organization and advance “Fail Fast” agile concepts and create a fearless culture.

If you have experience in a “fail fast” organizational culture, what lessons can you share? Was the company culture fearless or fearful? I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Measuring Culture, Climate, and Engagement – What Really Matters?

Measuring Culture, Climate, and Engagement – What Really Matters?

A healthcare services organization recently shared a discovery conversation as to how we could support and enable them to develop a compassionate and caring culture. They had some clarity as to their organizational aspiration—what outcomes they wanted and why it was important to achieve them. They had also collated significant Patient Care information and had key elements in place to do what they believed to be important in order to deliver compassionate care to patients.

However, they lacked a common understanding as to what “compassionate care” might mean, how it manifested or not, and how it might impact people’s experience and productivity at work. They were also concerned that staff did not have the time, energy, and the permission to be fully present and accommodating to provide compassionate care, considering the diverse range of individual patient needs and complex problems.

Consequently, they perceived that their people had no head, heart and gut space, or way, of developing or understanding what it meant to provide consistent compassionate care to patients.

Taking the key steps to achieve successful organizational outcomes

For our potential client’s organization to maximise their potential to succeed, we suggested that they first needed to further clarify and align their organizational aspiration with the Board and Executive Managers—qualifying and quantifying What they wanted to achieve, and Why they wanted to achieve it.

Organizational Diagram

A. Clarifying the organizational aspiration

We suggested that the organizational aspiration included articulating;

  • An inspiring and inclusive Vision for Compassionate Care supported by their description of their ideal organization when this vision is achieved. The focus might include being adaptive, interdependent, collaborative, being empathic and caring, improving both the patient and staffs’ experience; giving people permission to challenge the status quo, and compliance imperatives, developing EI skills, vulnerability and courage to make small bets and take smart risks, promoting wellbeing-ness and wellness, and maximizing differences and diversity.
  • A BHAG for Compassionate Care to cascade as performance measures across the organization to drive accountability.
  • A Passionate Purpose for Compassionate Care; a compelling reason as to why it is the most powerful and critical lever to pull for positive change and industry leadership.
  • The Values for Compassionate Care, supported by clearly defined and desired mindsets and behavioural anchors to harness people’s potential.

B. Setting the organizational strategies

What matters next is defining the Behaviours and Actions that people are encouraged, enabled and rewarded to take, or not take, to deliver the Results and the Outcomes the client organization wants to achieve.

In the case of our clients’ potential intervention, the behaviours and actions needed to be guided by a very clear set of organizational Strategies, incorporating a Systemic perspective embracing people, process and technology factors.

C. Making the culture diagnostic links

Conducting the culture diagnostic would enable our clients’ organization to assess “what is really going on” in their organization. This would include their readiness and maturity for a change initiative. It would create the context and develop a common understanding of compassionate care. It would measure, quantify and benchmark their ability to adapt and transform within that context.

It would embrace qualitative research processes to identify, analyse and assess the supporting, inhibiting and causal factors in the operating needs, values, beliefs and mindsets on the change initiatives ability to be successful, or not.

An Organizational Cultural Diagnostic would enable our client to critically identify the gaps between the current and ideal cultures; between what “should happen” in the future and what needs to be done differently now to close the gap in terms of the current and desired needs, values, beliefs, mindsets, and behaviours.

D. Making the climate survey links

Conducting an organizational climate survey would enable our client to describe and measure people’s reactions to their experience of the current organizational culture, and its impact on them.

Knowing that an Organizational Climate Survey is only a representation of how people’s (and especially leaders) current operating behaviours and actions affect people, we would not recommend this as an initial first step. It is an “effect” of the operating culture and neither indicates nor reveals the real, underlying root cause as to why people react as they do.

E. Making the engagement survey links

Conducting an engagement survey would enable our client to assess how people are thinking, acting and feeling about how “things are getting done” in their organization. How this impacts on their effectiveness and productivity in their roles. Whilst this is important, it merely reflects peoples experience of their employers Organizational Climate, which is driven by the Organizational Culture.

So how are culture, climate, and engagement interconnected?

To support our client to shift their organizational culture, it was crucial to:

  • Promote an understanding of the three key tools and choose the most relevant one to solve business problems and deliver their organizational aspirations.
  • Identify, make explicit and operationalize the core values and desired behaviours through leader’s role modeling and coaching people to embody and enact them.
  • Initiate and sustain the desired change and deliver the organizational aspiration by “bringing to life” the positive beliefs, mindsets, and behaviours as desired “cultural norms” to the “way we do things around here.”
  • Enable, empower, acknowledge and reward people when they demonstrate them.

To ultimately transform the current “cultural norms” into desired ones, and to close the gaps between the current and ideal organizational states to ensure that change is successfully implemented.

Taking the first steps

  1. Clarify and share your organizational aspirations with your people; vision, purpose & values grounded in desired mindsets and behaviours.
  2. Assess, measure and diagnose your current culture, to identify the operating needs, values and beliefs and how these operate as “cultural norms” and get sent as “messages” in the organization, and their impact on overall performance.
  3. Identify the gap between the current or actual culture and ideal culture, and build and implement a culture development plan to close the gap, including how to lead and role model the desired changes.
  4. Monitor how these changes make people think, act and feel by regular climate and engagement surveys/dashboards (as a scorecard, not as the solution).

It is not an easy journey, yet it is a worthwhile and sustainable one if we want to engage, empower, enable and ennoble people to be the best they can be, to make the difference we want to make in the world, in ways that are valued and cherished.

I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

Editors Note:

The desired and current cultures mentioned can be measured by the Ideal and Current forms of the Organizational Culture Inventory®, and climate can be measured by the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. To see how these diagnostics are linked together in practice, please review the “How Culture Works” model. For additional reference, please consider Clarifying the Elusive Concepts of Culture and Climate and An Updated Perspective on Engagement and Performance: Culture as the Centerpiece.

Building an Agile Innovation Culture – Leader as Agility Shifter

Building an Agile Innovation Culture

We are living in an age of hyper change and massive disruption, what Daniel Pink calls “The Conceptual Age” stating that the future “belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind”: a new breed of knowledge workers, who know how to be, think and act differently within the context of an agile innovation culture.

What is an agile innovation culture?

Where people have permission, feel safe and empowered within their organizational environment, to get things done by knowing how to;

  • Quickly embrace, respond, adapt to and safely deal effectively with change,
  • Come from an empty or beginners mind and be passionate about learning,
  • Regulate people’s levels of complacency, discomfort and unconscious resistances to change,
  • Improvise, play and experiment with novel concepts and new ideas to learn quickly by failing fast,
  • Feel confident to take smart and courageous risks,
  • Rock the ‘business as usual’ boat, be provocative and safely disrupt the status quo,
  • Collaborate, connect and network across conventional boundaries,
  • Be inquisitive and curious about anything and everything,
  • Generatively discover, explore, respond to & solve problems,
  • Be both empathic and compassionate.

Where organizations cultivate agility shifting leaders; passionate, nimble, confident and courageous people, who strategically and systemically co-create energetic, engaged and customer centric environments that align with, and bring to life, people’s purposefulness, creativity and wellness.

What are the benefits of cultivating an agile innovation culture

It better enables organizations to achieve the key outcomes they want to have; delivering the required bottom line results; increasing ROI, executing business growth goals and improving business value and customer advocacy; or in making productivity and efficiency gains to compete successfully.

“The cultural lens is the most difficult to “get right” in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.”  ~John Van Maanen

At ImagineNation™ we embrace a strategic, systemic and human centered approach to contextualizing, measuring and benchmarking an agile innovation culture. Suggesting that innovation is like a dance, and to dance well it’s important to know the key steps and how to orchestrate them carefully by balancing;

  • Strategy (vision) and Systems (technology),
  • With People (culture) and Learning (capability).

The result is the development of an innovation culture that creates both a human and a process focused environment that is technology, people and customer centric.

Emerging new role for leadership

Your operating culture will either support or inhibit your innovation success – leaders will collude with your operating culture, or exit it! This creates an exciting opportunity and a new role for leaders as ‘agility shifters’ – so they can be effective by making intentional shifts in changing and innovation contexts. Becoming “a different kind of person with a different kind of mind” who knows how to be, think and act differently within an agile innovation culture; by knowing how to be deeply present to, see and respond to complex adaptive systems and to the unexpected and the unplanned.

‘Agility shifters’ are people who have the speed and grace to respond to the unexpected, who provocate and disrupt to create changes, and shift their way of being, thinking and doing, to co-create new ways of adding value that people value & cherish.

Depending less on new skills and knowledge and much more on clarifying the context, and creating the safe space for people co-create ideas, breakthrough and inflection points, together within a collective holding space to;

  • Emerge creative ideas,
  • Explore new roles,
  • Allow more flexibility, improvisation and play in the system.

Who cultivate their own and their people’s innovation agility;

  • Capacity including emotional, visceral & cognitive abilities to flow and flourish with uncertainty and volatility.
  • Competence including the mindsets, behaviours and generative skills necessary to respond to the unexpected and unplanned by being safely disruptive in generating new developments and innovative breakthroughs from emerging trends. Developing agile (nonlinear & non-prescriptive) learning, planning & decision making processes.
  • Confidence including the self-efficacy to trust their own, and others’ judgments, competence and capacity to be effective in changing contexts.

Making the strategic agile innovation culture and leadership decision

If you really want your business enterprise to flourish, then be willing to play, improvise and experiment with introducing innovation as a strategic, systemic and human centered way of “doing things around here.” Doing this effectively will harness and mobilize your leader’s and your people’s collective genius and deeply engage them in doing meaningful, purposeful, creative and energizing work.

You will also take ownership of your future and enable your organization to succeed, grow, sustain and flourish in times of hyper change and massive disruption.

What can you add to this discussion? I look forward to your thoughts and comments on social media.