We have a saying we like to repeat here at improve it!, “Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” It’s short and sweet, and reminds us that a great deal of the best moments in our careers (and our lives) are spent outside of our comfort zones. This is all well and good, but there’s a little something missing from that phrase - the how. How do we create an environment where people are encouraged to take risks and do things outside of their comfort zones at work?
Have you ever been in an office where people were afraid to speak up? Or maybe you’ve seen an environment where employees know that their ideas are not respected, so they stop trying. You might have even witnessed a space where judgement and negative thinking are so consistent that turnover runs high and team morale is nowhere to be found.
Taking risks and being creative at work is not possible in just any environment. Creativity cannot coexist with negativity; one opens doors and the other slams them shut. The key to being innovative and creating change relies on the presence of a safe space for employees to think outside of the box and not be afraid to fail. To help foster this environment, I’ve compiled a list of five things you can do as a leader to create a more supportive environment where people want to take risks:
1. Listen - I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but nothing will change unless leaders and peers start listening to those around them. Create time in your calendar to hear what’s giving your team trouble, what projects they’re interested in, or even listening to what they did over the weekend. Actively listening to others helps establish trust and enables people to feel valued at work.
2. Be honest to your direct reports - Give people honest feedback on their work and expect that level of honesty in return. A truly safe space requires the mutual respect that only honest and sincere feedback can provide.
3. Change your perspective - I’m sure your idea is amazing, but that passionate employee over there probably has an interesting take on this topic too, so listen to their idea. Adjust your initial plan if someone proposes a better one, or be respectful and open to discuss reasons for your disagreement. Create an environment where different ideas and respectful conversations lead to the best possible solution.
4. “Yes, And” each other - Instead of saying “no” right away, suspend your judgement and be open to what the other person is suggesting. You can even go further than that and try to build on their idea. Say “yes” to hearing about a new marketing proposal or listening to a suggestion on how to improve an internal process in the office. Give people the freedom to make suggestions and share their passions, and see how the energy shifts to a more positive work environment.
5. Establish “Showtunes Fridays” - Finally, when all else fails, blast some Hamilton, blare that Rent soundtrack, play those Music Man tunes, and show off your taste in Disney musicals! Well that’s what works in our office, at least. I guess what I’m trying to say is find your way of making the work fun for your team. So maybe it’s not office sing-a-longs to Moana...maybe it’s bringing in homemade treats to celebrate a completed project or hosting a team dinner or happy hour to celebrate every quarter. Whatever it is, find your way to bring a little extra fun into the office every now and then to show employees that they are valued and rewarded for their work.
And just remember that in the end, people who feel heard, respected, and encouraged to step outside of the their comfort zones are the ones who create change. Let that be your team.
Jenna McDonnell is a graduate from DePaul University, where she studied in the Honors Program with a double major in Organizational Communication and Media. Through internships in both the nonprofit sector and business world, she has two years of experience in social media and digital marketing.
At improve it!, she is the Client Experience Associate and focuses on building and maintaining client relationships.