Teams are more creative at problem solving

If you want to go quickly – go alone; if you want to go far – go together  – African Proverb

As I discussed in my last post, peer pressure is highly effective in building momentum and gaining commitment to your sustainability initiatives. But that’s not the only way to unleash the social capital that others can provide to influence sustainable change. The next source in Vital Smart’s Influencer Model is finding strength in numbers. 

We have more people in the world today than ever before. Experts predict the world’s population will reach 9 billion by the year 2050. That’s a lot of people drawing on the earth’s resources, so we need to improve our efficiency in energy usage, producing food and ensuring a healthy environment.

There are many research studies that show groups are almost always smarter than individuals. So let’s draw on the collective smarts of people to create abundant solutions to our most pressing sustainability problems.

Use Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is most commonly referred to as an open call for solutions. In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki states it is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question.

A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.

Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be used for everything.  It’s your job as a sustainability leader to set the vision, and results you want to achieve. However, it is an excellent method to use when determining your strategies or how you’re going to get there, and tactics, the steps you’ll take to carry out each strategy.

The three best uses of crowdsourcing in organizations are choosing among alternatives, creating alternatives and vetting your tactics.

Choosing Among Alternatives

As we know, there are many roads that can lead to the results you are trying to achieve. In fact, they tend to look like complicated interstate highways when you begin to cross functional silos and boundaries inside your company.

A strategy may work for one group but can be completely devastating to another. Use crowdsourcing to share alternative strategies with your group for them to discuss and agree on what they believe is the best solution for going forward.

Pretty sure you have the right set of tactics? Ask the group for feedback. They may find the blind spots you’ve missed. With social networking software, you can conduct on-line surveys, or, you can gather the group in a conference room, share your plan with them, and easily capture and synthesize the collective knowledge of others to make success inevitable.

Not only do you tend to get a superior solution, but crowdsourcing has other benefits as well. It builds strong relationships and increases engagement with your stakeholders — leaders, employees and even clients.

You’ll get increased buy-in by allowing others to have a voice and share their opinions. Foster collaboration by allowing groups from all areas to participate. Promote innovation by allowing others to identify new solutions to achieve your company’s sustainability mission.

Look to Microfinance Models for Inspiration

Microfinance is a model for giving very small loans to a group of borrowers, mostly low-income women in developing areas who typically lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history. Many times the loan to one participant in group-lending depends upon the successful repayment from another member, thus transferring repayment responsibility from microcredit institutions to loan recipients.

These groups are responsible for each other’s re-payment and work as a team to provide business advice and help each other to succeed. Historically, 95% – 98% of these loans are repaid.

When successful, this model of team effectiveness sets the bar for what we should be striving for in our sustainability team efforts.

In microfinance lending it is the group that succeeds, not the individual. Equating this to sustainability teams in an organization, team success needs to be rewarded over individual contribution.

It involves a completely different set of behaviors when an individual learns to help others as opposed to ensuring her own needs are addressed.

If you are a sustainability team leader, you have to create operating principles for your team that insist on actions and decisions that help others. For instance, a ‘team rule’ could be that any idea presented has to benefit another individual or functional area.

A new sustainability reporting software may be great for the CSR writer but really disruptive for the facilities management team. The software can only be proposed if there is added benefit to help others do their roles more effectively.

Create a Collaborative Environment

Within your organization, you want to create an environment in which the team members refuse to disappoint each other and kick out those who do. How? Build strong relationships.

Studies completed by Karau and Williams showed that groups that had personal connections with each other had less social loafing than those who saw their team members as work acquaintances.

At Paladino, we have every team member take DiSC, a personal behavioral assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork and communication. The assessment describes personal priorities (results vs accuracy), motivations and stressors and ways to strengthen building relationships with other personality types.

Then, we have team meetings where each member describes his or her own type to the others who comment on what they appreciate and what is hard about other types. This activity of self disclosure builds relationships faster because individuals feel they know and understand each other’s intentions.

Encourage Team Building

There are various other team building activities that can foster the rapid development of rich professional relationships. An example is LinkedIn’s participation in Tough Mudder, a 20 kilometer obstacle course that requires teamwork to succeed. Each participant pledges, “I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. Tough Mudders are team players who make sure no one gets left behind.”

If you head up a sustainability team, you need to initiate constructive conversations when conflicts arise. When a group member isn’t pulling his weight, or there is disagreement about a course of action, the group needs to openly discuss the issues and work to find solutions instead of remaining silent or starting a blame game. You have to demand that your team resolve their conflicts with an eye to achieving success as a shared goal.

Each member of the team needs to ask for help when needed. Asking for assistance should not be seen as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. The group benefits when members can give advice to each other, capitalizing on the competence that exists within the team.

Use the Smartest Heads

Your team members have to acknowledge that others around the table are smarter than they are in certain areas. It has to be OK to say, “I don’t know.” Titles and length of service don’t matter. What matters is leveraging the unique talents of individuals to the team’s advantage.

Think about how successful your implementation team would be if they practiced these principals and recognized that two heads are better than one, four heads are better than two, and eight heads are better than four in developing the vision and strategies for your organization to achieve its sustainability goals.

Julie Honeywell is Vice President, Talent Management, at Paladino and Company.

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