When presented with a task that you’ve never seen before, you’ve got two options: you can say, “I can’t do that” or, by adding one magic word, change your approach entirely and say “I can’t do that, yet.” This is the core principle of what’s called a growth mindset. The idea is that abilities can be developed through hard work and that any talent can be mastered with the right approach.
It’s a theory of learning largely developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck, who outlines two mindsets:
The belief that basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits.
The belief that basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
In other words, a fixed mindset is one that assumes you can do a task or not – one has the ability, or they don’t – without the flexibility to change their aptitude. A growth mindset allows for the possibility of, well, growth. This applies to the individual, the team, and ultimately, business scale.
Much of the theory is based on an individual’s abilities and mindset, but the same principles can be applied to teams. After all, a coherent team has shared abilities, knowledge, doubts, achievements, and more. Just as an individual learner can have a fixed or growth mindset, a cohesive group can have one too.
Fostering a growth mindset can result in a team that has greater shared knowledge, can take appropriate risks, embrace challenges, and roll with the punches. A growth mindset allows a team to learn from failures rather than putting them down to “not being good enough,” as a fixed mindset would. It creates a group that is dynamic, driven, and able to change.
However, team attitudes can be quite entrenched, so you need a solid set of strategies to help develop a growth mindset at your business. Below are five proven tactics to foster a team growth mindset and embrace challenges today.
Encourage Learning and Personal Development
A growth mindset is all about learning, so making education a core part of your company is vital. This should start with providing practical opportunities for training and learning from outside your company through, for example, professional courses and internally through formalized knowledge sharing.
This learning and development should then be supported through ongoing programs. One of the most practical things you can do today is implement a knowledge management system, which captures, shares, and utilizes the information that already exists in your company or that is brought in through professional learning and training.
One vital part of encouraging learning and personal development for a team growth mindset is leading by example. If you, and upper management, aren’t actively trying to improve, how can you expect the rest of the team too? You need to approach challenges how you want your employees to and commit to learning how to overcome them, even if this means failing in front of everyone (which we’ll get to later).
Foster a Positive Work Environment
In order for a growth mindset to really take hold within your team, you need a positive and supportive work culture. This way, every employee feels comfortable and secure in their environment, offering the freedom to take risks, make mistakes, and continue their learning journey.
Part of creating this positive environment is celebrating success, but fostering a growth mindset means not just rewarding people who have the best outcomes. Instead, you need to recognize progress, rewarding those who may have “failed” to achieve the task, but have succeeded in growing the team skillset. This can be a tricky transition to make when a team is used to promoting KPIs above all else, but a simple way to start is through positive feedback.
On the flip side, you need to actively address negative attitudes and behaviors. This means tackling the idea of “I can’t do this” with practical learning, but also dismissing the idea that just trying is good enough. Effort is a big part of the growth mindset, of course, but if someone is trying without learning from that process, they are still missing the point.
Remote or hybrid work remains one of the major small business trends in 2023, and this requires you to adapt your growth mindset strategies to maximize impact. When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to pull someone aside to address negative attitudes or offer them praise in front of the whole team. When it comes to remote working, however, this can be a bit trickier. To ensure this communication still happens, set up dedicated communications channels for feedback. Another issue that may arise with implementing a growth mindset in a remote team is isolation. Learning from failure can be a lot harder when you’re facing that failure alone, so make sure remote employees aren’t left out in the cold. Create easy-to-use, asynchronous connections that your team can stay active in as they learn.
Embrace Failure and Mistakes
When it comes to a growth mindset, failures are viewed as opportunities to learn rather than something to be avoided. Obviously, everyone wants to do well and succeed, but changing your attitude and approach to things going wrong can open up a whole new world of improvement. Your company culture must be one of resilience, where team members aren’t held back by mistakes but rather persevere to get the result they want.
To encourage this culture, you need to provide support and guidance to team members when they suffer a setback, as well as before, so it doesn’t come as a shock. It can be extremely hard to reframe failures when you’re the one suffering them, so working through a problem together can be an extremely helpful activity.
Whether Thomas Edison actually said it or not, a quote that is often attributed to his pursuit of the lightbulb offers us an insight into how we can reframe setbacks:
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
With every attempt, you learn something new, and with the perseverance of a growth mindset, you’ll eventually have your lightbulb moment.
Additionally, you need to once again lead by example. As mentioned earlier, you must embrace your own failures and demonstrate that you can learn from your mistakes. This can be hard for some people in leadership positions to do since they feel like they should be infallible, but that is a sign of an unhelpful fixed mindset.
Encourage Collaboration and Teamwork
One of the most valuable strategies for fostering a growth mindset in your team is strong collaboration. For a shared mindset to succeed, your team must work well as a group. To help this along, you can encourage communication channels and shared learning through improved interpersonal relationships. Simple places to start are team-building activities, shared lunches, or online happy hours.
When team members collaborate and communicate well, they begin to trust each other more, and with greater trust comes the ability to take risks, try new things, and fail in the open. All this builds the team’s growth mindset.
Facilitate Team Communication
As discussed, an essential part of a team growth mindset comes from collaboration and open communication within your team and the company as a whole. You can help facilitate this by offering your team the communication channels they need to succeed. This starts with direct lines of communication for individuals and groups, such as email chat, video meetings, voice messages, and group chat. All these enable team members to talk openly with one another or offer feedback and support on a one-on-one level.
Furthermore, ensure that you’re providing the appropriate collaborative tools. Digital whiteboards or similar online spaces are important to any modern work team and are absolutely vital for those working remotely. They offer a space where people can experiment with new ideas as a group, which is an important part of developing a growth mindset team.
Your Team on a Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset as an individual and a team offers the ability to reframe failures as opportunities and develop your abilities rather than being locked into an “I can’t do that” attitude. It allows your team to be dynamic and mobile, not only adapting to change but thriving on the challenges.
It’s important to remember just how important leading from the front is when it comes to fostering a growth mindset. Your team will look to you for guidance, so showing that you are willing to take risks and embrace failure is key. The same applies to the communication and collaboration that is the backbone of a growth mindset – when the leadership team is open, honest, and clear in their communication, the other teams will follow.
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