In my last blog post, I highlighted the question of culture, and what it really means. Well, another topic that is common in job interviews (especially in the Technology Industry), is learning. Most job descriptions include something to the effect of, “must be eager to learn and grow.” So, what does that mean? Why are companies so adamant that their people be passionate about learning and growth? Let’s examine this and why it is so important.
Agile Mindedness and Fixed Mindedness
Eagerness to learn, passion for growth, and all the other ways to say it can be summed up in a concept known as the agile mindset. In technology, we are very familiar with Agile Development (Scrum comes to mind), but perhaps we haven’t examined the process closely enough to discover one of its foundational aspects, the agile mindset. The following are just a few of the driving forces of agility of mind:
- It considers effort and growth higher than innate talent/ability.
- Growth is encouraged and incentivized (both internally and externally).
- Stagnation is the enemy and complacency its harbinger.
On the other end of the spectrum of agile minds are the fixed minds. These are those that focus on ability and skillset as static. Comfort zones are where work is done, and specialties are highly encouraged. To be clear, fixed mindsets are not inherently bad, but they hold a different set of challenges in business and technology.
Contrasting the challenges of the two mindsets, I will look at the makeup of a team. For a fixed minded team, composition is vital. Each member must have a specific set of skills that meshes well with the other members. The challenge here is how to recruit the right members for the team. Technical ability is the sole focus. Personality and cultural compatibility become secondary. This may lead to teams of people that get their jobs done well, and efficiently, but can’t stand each other personally.
The flip-side of that coin is the challenges presented with an agile team. In this team the specific skills are the secondary focus. Cultural fit becomes paramount, as the culture is the driving force of the individual’s ability to grow and learn. The way a team works together and grows together can thrive because the focus when recruiting new members is how they fit with the existing team as opposed to how their skills fit.
Using Culture To Influence the Mindset
What happens, then, if we’ve recruited a fixed minded individual to be part of our agile team? Based on the above, it may seem like this is a death sentence for our team, but it absolutely is not. Mindsets can be changed. The culture can drive this change without making the fixed minded feel like they’re inferior or insufficient.
The first way this happens is by encouraging the team to step out of their comfort zones; rewarding them when they do. Incentivizing the abandonment of comfort zones will foster the change. We also should avoid praising “status quo” ability, while elevating the praise for those that overcome new and
uncharted challenges. Rewarding these ventures into the unknown will create a team that loves learning and expanding their skills. Simultaneously, we don’t want to discourage those that are currently complacent but continue working with them to challenge stagnation.
My Fixed Minded Experience and Transformation
When I started working at Springthrough, I was as green as they come. I hadn’t heard of things like GitHub and TFS. Nor did I truly understand the difference between .NET and .NETCore. I had a basic understanding of development and concepts, but that was it. Being this green in such a dynamic and ever-changing industry easily created in me what is called an Imposter Complex. I felt that I was undeserving of a spot on the team, and I wasn’t good enough to be here. At the time, I knew I had a lot to learn but there were many crises of confidence in me. This was part of my fixed mind mentality. I felt like there was no hope for me, and I “just wasn’t cut out for this after all.”
Springthrough’s culture however, is heavily focused on the agile mindset. Learning and growing is built in to the environment. I was encouraged to dive into things without anyone holding my hand, and to take responsibility for my failures and my successes. This motivated me to learn more and more. Now, nearly two years into my fledgling career, I’m able to look back on my path with pride. I’m also more focused on my future and what it may hold as I continue learning and growing. I no longer see my blind spots as a shortcoming, but an opportunity to grow and advance my career. This is what it looks like when a fixed minded individual becomes agile minded.
Fostering Agility within the Organization
An organization, like Springthrough, can foster this culture fairly easily. Leaders need to be open about their own knowledge gaps, encouraging the younger team members to acknowledge and overcome their own. This type of transparency also fosters trust within the organization. When we trust our organization, vulnerability becomes easier. Make no mistake, admitting our blind spots is a very vulnerable position.
It’s also important to allow team members to explore new things and understand that it’s okay to fail if the lessons learned help to improve them. Respect the team members’ capabilities as they are while also casting the vision of what will be achieved by consistent and passionate focus on learning and growth. This growth is vital, and the organization must commit to supporting it, even if it means the team members grows out of their current role. Whether they move on to a new organization, or climb the ladder within their current one, the growth is the most important part.
The Future of Agile Minded Organizations
As you might have guessed, the future of an organization focused on learning and growing is pretty bright. The individuals within the organization will consistently grow, which will lead the company to growth of its own. Ultimately, a company only has two options when its people are growing. Grow with
them or stagnate and fall behind. The former is the goal, while the latter will lead to high turnover as growing team members hit a ceiling and move on to other organizations.
Regardless, agility is the key to the organization as well as the individual. If a particular technology is becoming obsolete, and the agile team members begin working with something newer and/or better, but the company refuses to expand its horizons, stagnation has begun. Whereas, if the company is always moving forward as technology advances, but its people refuse to learn and grow, then stagnation has also begun. Agility is a team effort in the truest sense of the phrase.
A company cannot grow without its people also growing. People cannot grow if their environment does not allow and encourage it. So, let’s encourage and foster a focus on growth, learning and abandonment of our comfort zones. If we recognize the symptoms of stagnation, we must squash them. Fast! Re-examine ourselves and ensure we’re still focused on the right vision of growth and learning.
Lastly (and I feel it most important), this starts with the individual. We must hold ourselves accountable first and foremost to be the agile minded people and the organization will follow.