Your organisation claims to value co-operation and collaboration. But does your organisational culture support these qualities? In many organisations, the answer is ‘no.’ In these organisations, there are likely to be two ‘killer’ behaviours taking place. Luckily, managers and HR practitioners can do something about these toxic behavioural norms. Here are two tips to get you started.

Toxic norm one: debating rather than creating

It’s a familiar scene. An innovator suggests a novel idea. Immediately the team pragmatist counters with ‘That won’t work because…’ A debate about the pros and cons of the idea begins. And a full-on conflict erupts. Unfortunately, debating is a competitive behaviour. For example, the aim of any school debate team is to win. The process used to do this is simple: rebut the other team’s case and assert your own.

Perhaps this approach teaches school students how to formulate an argument. But it certainly doesn’t build their collaborative skills. This means that in order to collaborate, many people need to unlearn the habits they picked up at school. There are two simple ways to help your employees do this. They involve handling conflict assertively and productively.

  • Teach people how to dialogue. The dialogue process involves sharing and developing ideas, rather than shooting them down. Read Eleanor Shakibas tip sheet on how to dialogue.
  • Carefully frame brainstorming. Explain that having an idea is not the same as committing to action it. Then point out that the brainstorm will be separated into two stages. During the first stage, the aim will be to come up with ideas. In the second stage, those ideas will be evaluated.

Toxic norm two: brainstorming in the boardroom

Here’s something to consider. Said out loud ‘Board room’ sounds exactly the same as ‘bored room’. So when you say ‘Let’s meet in the board room for an innovation workshop’ what message are you really sending? When people walk into a stuffy, cramped room how do they feel? ‘Innovative’ is hardly the right word. To foster creativity, put your people into the right space, both physically and emotionally. Here are three simple ways to do this.

  • Get off-site. Being in unfamiliar territory breaks programmed thinking patterns. This, in turn, promotes ideation (the process of generating new ideas).
  • Ditch the tables and the torture chamber chairs. Tables create barriers between people. And ‘power chairs’ aren’t designed for comfort. Create a space which supports group interaction. Cluster comfortable chairs around flipcharts and whiteboards. Make sure there is plenty space to move around, so that the membership of small groups can be changed regularly.
  • Pay attention to visual cues. Negative signs send negative messages. Would you be creative in a room papered with ‘No music. No blutak. Clean up after yourself!!!’