Inspired Teams Innovation

Inspired Teams don’t let challenges get in their way; they are so committed to achieving their purpose they invent ways to overcome the challenges.

In this article written by Dr. Steve B. Wolff, Team Emotional Intelligence Expert, and Comparative Agility Author, we will discuss the conversations and agreements that Inspired Teams focus on to create a culture of Innovation.

Creating Innovation

Have you ever noticed that the events in your life that you remember most, were times when you faced difficulties and found a way through? You took a risk, or you tried something new for the very first time? In these moments we become alive because our fears are right there in front of us, staring us straight in the face. There is no surety of the outcome. We overcome our fears and get to the other side. We find new strengths, new confidence, a new way to look at ourselves that we didn’t know was there. The events are the most memorable because we put ourselves out there, face discomfort, and overcome our circumstances. We become deftly curious. We experiment with whatever is in front of us. We take a risk. As human beings, we become alive when our backs are against the wall, and in the face of not knowing, we create ourselves, or we create something new. This is Innovation.
Innovation occurs when we face adversity when we don’t know what the answer is, but in spite of uncertainty, we find a way out; we take bold action.

Innovation is more than being creative, it is a mindset of confidence, curiosity, experimentation, and action. If the team is going to Innovate, it cannot chase certainty. If a team is to Innovate it must be open and excited to be challenged, and open and excited to fail much of the time. It must expect that things will go wrong, stay resilient, and continually learn and adapt.


An Inspired team creates “can-do” stories; it remains optimistic that it can meet unexpected challenges, remove obstacles, and do great things. It remains committed to its promise and does not move the goalposts when something gets in the way; they do everything possible to fulfill their promise.

Each team has a “story” of what is possible and what is not possible. Those whose stories have a wider frame of what is possible have greater optimism. Team A believes that the current economy limits their ability to find new customers. Team B believes that the current economy opens up new markets for them. Team B is optimistic. The story that each team tells itself, motivates a limited or an abundant set of conversations and actions; the story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Team B will be more curious about which new customers are out there and what they might want. They will make more calls, they will experiment, they will be more open to failure, they will look to what is preventing them from reaching new customers. Their optimism is abundant and they have a curious mindset that allows them to discover new possibilities.


We all hate to fail. We put a lot of meaning behind it. When we do fail, for most of us, we feel shame. Yet, if you look back at all of the failures that you have had, you learned something that positively impacted your life. You failed in a job…that you hated. You failed in a sport…and chose a better one. You failed in a relationship…and found someone you were better suited for.

The best entrepreneurs, scientists, salespeople, sports icons, and movie stars, have achieved their success because they have learned how to fail.
How you and your team view failure is key to whether or not you will try new things. If you are afraid of failure, you will not experiment. You will not be curious. You will not ask questions about trying things a different way. You will be stuck doing the same things, hoping for a different outcome. You are not likely to create breakthroughs.

Inspired Teams celebrate failures. They see failure as necessary on the road to success. The best teams see that failure is the key to learning what doesn’t work. The best teams try new things. The best teams honor those who take the risks necessary to get to a new solution, not to make themselves look right.


Somewhere along the way, between ages 2 and 22, many of us believe that we have all the answers, and we stop with the questions. We make sense of the world, and decide that in order to prove our intelligence, our stature, our greatness, we must embark on a life, where we must prove that we know all there is to know. We fear that if we were to demonstrate that we don’t know, we would be found out. We would be seen as imposter. We think that if people knew that we don’t know something, it would have us look like we don’t know anything. In this uncertain world where solutions to problems need to be invented daily, the team must remain curious. Being truthful about not knowing, and being curious about finding out is required to deliver value to our customers. In this world of constant change, the team needs to figure things out as it goes.


Everything you have ever done actually was an experiment. It was an experiment for you to choose your area of study, your job, your relationships. It was an experiment to find out what type of food you like and do not like. In fact, you probably experimented before you chose the car you drive. Writers sit down knowing that their first drafts won’t be great.

Artists know that their attempts at a master-piece will be laden with dreadful canvases. Scientists know that in order to make a great discovery, they must experiment over and over and over again. Their optimism, attitude around failure, and curiosity is not enough. They know that to uncover great discoveries, they need to try new things. Through experimentation, you gather information. Through experimentation, you get a glimpse of the greatest solution. Having a mindset of experimentation is almost magical. Fear of failure, and the curse of certainty, lead teams to pursue only one path. Instead of a team arguing about whether something will work or not, great teams declare an experiment. Teams that experiment learn faster and accelerate progress. If something does not work, you can always go back to the way it was.

Sensing innovation

You now have an understanding of the conversations and agreements that help create a culture that generates Innovation.

In a nutshell, in a culture that generates Innovation, there is an excitement that comes from discovery. There is a sense of wonder and you feel you can meet any challenge.

You want to try new things to see what is possible. A team culture that generates Innovation has members that are hopeful and fearless. The language used in teams that generate Innovation is about possibility and determination. The language of a team that is not generating Innovation sounds like a group of victims blaming circumstance for their failure.

The challenges that arise when Innovation is low are related to the fear of making mistakes. When Innovation is lacking, the team does not take risks. This leads to minimal learning and a rush to find blame when something goes wrong. The team muddles through without creating innovative processes or products. The reason is that team members live in fear of making a mistake or having something go wrong, so they stick to the status quo; it is safer than diving into the unknown.

The team strives toward certainty even though the environment is rapidly changing and certainty is not possible; it suffers from the proverbial analysis paralysis. Decisions are slow or don’t get made at all.

To assess whether your teams are average or Inspired — and identify where you need to make improvements — take the Inspired Teams assessment right now and take an intentional approach to continuous improvement.



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