Leader Perspective on IRT Innovation Week
As the head of the International Relations Team of Proakatemia, I shared a concern about the big team feeling separated. Since we were mostly working in smaller groups as the structure picture shows you below, there were not too many interactions inside the big team. To tackle this issue, I decided to organize an innovation week for the whole team. In this essay, I’m going to open up the process of organizing this kind of a week, what it takes to plan wisely, and also some research I had behind it to back up the choices I made regarding our structure.
Importance of Goal Setting
Every day started with goal setting, which helped us to focus our minds into what was the whole purpose of that day. Some of the goals were easier to achieve, like: “learn at least 1 new thing about a team member” and some were harder like “make money for IRT”. I purposely chose different levels of goals to make sure we always achieve some and end the day with a good feeling of achievement.
Brian Tracey writes in his blog post about “6 Reasons setting goals is important”, that setting goals helps you focus your thoughts on what you’re supposed to be doing and help keep the motivation up even when otherwise would not feel like doing something. He says that the desire of achieving goals becomes bigger than the feeling of being tired or pushing it until tomorrow. Why I chose to put some easier goals was to feed the desire of reaching higher goals, Tracey says that when you achieve a goal, you get a taste of victory and want to achieve more. This creates a cycle of working towards the next one and wanting to challenge oneself even further. (Tracey, n.d.)
According to Leslie Riopel in an article she wrote for PositivePsychology.com, people are willing to perform higher and work harder for bigger goals than the ones being easy to achieve. (Riopel, 2022) This could also be seen in the Innovation Week as I was following the interactions of our team, the goals such as “getting to know 1 new thing about a team member” were not something they purposefully worked towards, but rather ended up almost by accident achieving. When it came to making money, it was clear on Sunday that everyone was hungry to make it happen and thus worked hard to get any sales possible.
Eli Straw says in his article “Importance of Goal Setting”, that goals should be supporting each other in a way that smaller daily goals are steps towards the big goal. He emphasizes that when a plan is well thought out with smaller goals reaching towards the big one, it kind of happens by accident that you get to that goal. (Straw, n.d.) In my plan, we had smaller goals such as “Get an idea of how we could make money” and “Create a plan for making money” and as we achieved these goals we got closer to making money for IRT.
Riopel talks about the importance of feedback related to goals and how that helps keep motivation up and shift focus to better ways of achieving the goal. Feedback ties the goal together with commitment and it’s important to note how a person’s belief in success can also affect performance. (Riopel, 2022) As a leader, one of my biggest roles was to keep the team motivated and help them believe in themselves and the fact that we could achieve our goals. The feedback I got from a team member, was that I was successful in this matter and my excitement and positive energy were catchy even when at times it felt like we were never making it to some of our goals.
Importance of Positive Leadership
Marcella Brener writes in an article called “Positive Leadership, why is it crucial for organizational change”, that the job of a leader is to open teams’ eyes to what is working well and what is the true situation in front of them. The weight should be on the positive side of aiming for possibilities rather than problems. A positive leader thinks that they can pull it off with their team and allow their team to work and even surprise them with their capabilities. She emphasizes that this does not mean you have to be happy and fake positivity, but you can see realistically things, but the key difference between negative leadership style is focusing on possibilities and improvements rather than thinking it’s not possible. (Brener, 2016)
I was surely surprised seeing how after some beginning stiffness team members started to open up and find the flow of working together and seeing the end goal and how to get there. In my leadership performance, I tried to focus on letting the team think and do themselves and me rather than observing from the sides and answering when being asked to assist or give input. I can’t say if I was 100% successful in this, but at least I tried my best to focus on giving positive feedback and improvement ideas when necessary. I truly wanted to show my team that I care about them and that our success is happening together.
Joyce. E. A. Russell writes in their article about the difference a positive leadership makes that, one element of positive leadership is something you can practice and learn. It’s not only that those people who seem naturally positive can be positive leaders, but it’s a mindset and way of working that can be learned by anyone. (Russell, 2021) As an individual, I’m often described as naturally positive, but I do catch myself too often thinking that something is not possible or not believing it could happen and this is something I’ve been working away from and was happy to witness during the innovation week that I had made some good progress in that. Maybe it was the fact that I needed to lead others and did not want to make them feel down even when I had doubts in my head.
Russell mentions a lot of ways a positive leader works, but I cached five that fitted the occasion, I have listed them below and put under what I did to achieve this and what was something I could’ve improved in this area.
- Showing genuine care for team members. (Russell, 2021)
How brought it to the team: Asking how team members were doing and said out loud how important the whole team is to me and how passionate I am about our mutual success.
Need to improve: Say this more at the very beginning of the week.
- Empower team members through autonomy and assistance. (Russell, 2021)
How brought it to the team: Giving them tasks and stepping to the side allowing the
team to work and think by themselves. Sharing my thoughts whenever needed and giving feedback through the process.
Need to improve: Sometimes I was told I could have given more thought and was maybe giving even too much freedom, so finding the balance in this is my next challenge.
- Bring energy that is positive and enthusiastic to the workplace. (Russell, 2021)
How brought it to the team: Keeping my own overall attitude positive and being excited about the work we were doing. I wanted my enthusiasm to catch on to people and I was told it really did help keep the motivation up through my overall positive vibe.
Need to improve: In the very beginning I was super sad about not everyone being able to participate, and I think this was shown too much to the team and might have had a harmful effect on the very beginning of the week. Need to improve by not letting my emotions get the best of me and focusing on the goal more.
- Find and share humor. (Russell, 2021)
How brought it to the team: I’m naturally a person who loves laughing and I tried my best to catch funny moments and bring laughter. One thing I did was our check-ins and check-outs (which I’ll get more in detail later), but my goal was to keep them fun and silly so the atmosphere would not be too serious at the very start and end of the days. This way we could start the day with a laugh and end with one.
Need to improve: In this department, I have to say I did not get any constructive feedback and personally think the only improvement is to come up with more of this kind of activity.
- Create a culture of celebrating success and cheering others. (Russell, 2021)
How brought it to the team: As I observed the performance everyone had during the week, I made certificates to notice people who had done something exceptionally well or succeeded to make a difference in the week somehow. Some of the certificates included: Spirit Builder, Creative Mind, Idea Machine, and Action Taker. Giving these certificates made the whole team super happy to celebrate the achievements and talents found in our team. Seeing everyone cheering on others as they were given certificates was a moment, I knew I had succeeded in something very well. Also, in our checkouts, we always went through goals and cheered on the ones we had achieved.
Need to improve: I want to bring this culture of celebrating ourselves and one another even more if I can. Overall team and I have been very happy with how it has turned out. Could help the team be even more excited to celebrate the small goals achieved.
Importance of Check-ins and Checkouts
In an article called How check-ins and check-outs will help you to build stronger teams, Niklaus Gerber writes that check-ins and check-outs help create trust and empathy amongst team members which can be seen in people throwing themselves in more or sharing more as these activities become more like a habit. These sessions are a vital part of a meeting to leave people with a feeling of closure and clarity. These sessions also work as a way of breaking the ice in the beginning and setting the tone for the whole meeting. (Gerber, 2020)
The check-in process is described as something opening up the space for a better overall understanding and communication in a team. People can share their expectations and get more familiar with each other and thus helping the progress forward. The check-out process is vital in making sure everyone leaves the meeting by being on the same page and fully understanding what has happened and what will be happening next. In an article about this topic, Fred Kofman says that the check-out is a great opportunity to observe what worked and what didn’t. (Kofman, n.d.)
These are reasons why I chose that every single day of our Innovation Week needs to start and end together with the team. We had check-ins that were mostly for breaking the ice such as: If you were a banana and someone would be about to pick you up, what would you say or say crack, snackle, pop as fast as you can. In our check-outs we’d always go through if we reached our goals and celebrated the ones, we did and thought about how to improve with the ones we did not, after this we would answer the question “how are we feeling” to give space for honest thoughts and feelings about the day and everything we had been doing. Our last questions in the wrap-up would be “What did we learn” and “What are the next steps” to give clarity on our progress, and learnings and set our minds to the future.
PIC 2: Innovation week day 1, Katrina Cirule
Our theme in the PowerPoint presentation for this day was yellow because it’s a color bringing energy, happiness, and stimulation to our brains. According to the Empowered by Color, website yellow inspires original thoughts due to it being so bright. It’s considered the color for new ideas in a sense of a practical, not dreamy thinker. If one would like to provoke optimism, confidence, enthusiasm, or innovation, yellow would be the best color for this. (Empowered by Color, n.d.)
Allison S. Gremillion writes in her article about colors how warm colors such as yellow, usually evoke positive emotions such as happiness and optimism, the brighter the color, the more it usually uplifts the mood. This color amongst other warm strong colors is easily grabbing one attention. Yellow is overall associated with laughter and being spontaneous. (Gremillon, 2019)
We had different approaches to innovation: writing ideas down in a given time, but more in peace and then sharing them with the whole team through writing them on the board and another was having a relaxation session to let our brains relax and the shooting ideas in rapid-fire to the board together. These two different approaches turned out to be very fruitful since different people operate in various ways. Some had much more ideas when given the time to think, but others kept shooting ideas under pressure and hearing things others said around them.
Raybourn Group International’s website says that some benefits of brainstorming include teamwork and idea building. For the first one, it is a way to create a better team atmosphere and pulls the team closer together. For the idea building brainstorming together helps to create more ideas as someone else can get an idea from something you said and together improvement is much easier. Emphasis should be on not shutting any ideas down since that can create a negative atmosphere and fear of looking stupid if sharing ideas that one does not think are the best. (Raybourn Group International, 2018.) Pulling the team closer was exactly what the IRT needed from the Innovation Week, and I tried these methods used to keep the atmosphere open for any ideas and keep emphasizing the fact that no idea is stupid, all of them are worth saying out loud.
Brianna Hansen writes in her article on different brainstorming techniques, that allowing team members to write their thoughts down on a paper without the fear of judgment can help get out ideas that might not come out in a conversation. When it comes to rapid ideation, she writes that being silly is the key, and losing any filter should be the starting point to rapid ideation to getting out-of-the-box ideas. (Hansen, 2021).
Based on these articles and websites, I feel like my approach to this brainstorming was quite successful. We were able to get some silly and out-of-the-box ideas that sparked even more ideas that eventually ended up being full of potential. Seeing different team members shine on different approaches was my favorite part of this day and I got a lot of feedback that having a moment of relaxation in between the brainstorming was good to keep the brain active and energized. At the end side of the day, we cut down our ideas and found the one we felt most confident taking forward at that moment.
PIC 3: Innovation Week day 2, Katrina Cirule
Our second day was all about coming up with a plan on how we’ll execute the idea we came up with the day before. I split the team into 2 groups for them both to work on a plan that they then shared and from those 2 plans, we were able to put together a plan that had the best parts of both. The theme for this day was colorful to keep people in a good mood and make a feeling of anything is possible. I wanted to avoid colors such as black, white, and grey because these colors represent simplicity, seriousness, and even a lack of emotion. (Gremillon, 2019).
During the planning day, we already started to make necessary arrangements for the upcoming days when the plan was going to be taken forward. In the planning face, I gave a lot of space to the team to find their way and come up with their thoughts on what would be the best way for us to act on our idea.
A plan should be clear, comprehensive, and flexible since you never know what is going to happen. (Your Article Library, n.d.) In our case, people had other obligations and were not present all the time the week which emphasized the importance of making a clear plan that anyone could read and get on the track of what we’re doing. A good plan is also something manageable to take into practice and it should be realistic to the situation it is created for. (Your Article Library, n.d.) In my eyes the plan we ended up creating was created for the situation at hand and was realistic, we did even modify it along the way as things changed. Some changes should have been done faster, but nevertheless, they were made.
PIC 4: Innovation Week day 3, Katrina Cirule
Executing the plan (2 days)
The following two days were centered around taking the plan forward and focusing our energy on marketing, creating materials, and making necessary arrangements. These days were full of fire to do and some nervousness about how we were going to be doing at the end. Because I knew this nervousness would arise, I chose the themes for these days carefully. The first one was things related to money such as gold, diamonds, and crowns. I had a vision in my head that seeing these kinds of objects would help us remember our end goal (making money) and motivate the team to work. On the second day, the theme was strong animals to make the team empowered and gather that energy of a lion or a tiger when working towards our goal.
PIC 5: Innovation Week day 4 inspiration picture, PowerPoint Stock Images
Regarding these two theories I had about the pictures of strong animals and money objects, there was no research to back it up and I asked how the team felt. Most of them (90%) said that they can not say those pictures would’ve had any affect on them or their performance. Two out of seven answering to my questions said that they could see more affect on the money pictures on them than the strong animals. Some mentioned in their comment that the pictures were nice however and especially the animals made the morning feel better. Conclusion to this is that the pictures had some effect, but not directly the one I was looking for them to have.
PIC 6: Innovation Week day 5, Katrina Cirule
Team Day and Total Wrap Up
The last day of the week was about relaxing and sparking the team spirit. We went for an aerial acrobatics class to take people out of their comfort zone and try something new together. Once again it was amazing to see the cheering of others when success happened in this new environment. Team members helped one another when struggling and through themselves into it full-heartedly. After the class, we had lunch together at Raina and ended up having very deep conversations about our pasts and relationships and things that affect us as who we are at the moment.
According to an article about the benefits of team building activities, having fun and different team activities is important to create trust and improve communication. Deeper conversations can create the feeling of responsibility and respect for each other and having fun allows us to improve overall mental health, confidence level, and joy of working together as a team. (Share Discovery Village, 2020)
The theme I chose for the last day was cute and funny animals because I wanted the atmosphere to be relaxed and joyful. According to the Faculty of Biological Sciences watching pictures or videos of cute animals is helping to reduce stress and enhance mood. In a study conducted by the faculty, they found out that stress levels could be reduced up to 50% through this method. (Faculty of Biological Science, 2020)
We ended everything with a training session during which we dove into a dialogue based on Motorola questions. After the Motorola, I as a leader gave a final thank you speech and wanted to share my appreciation to the team through the certificates that allowed us to celebrate one another’s success and great teamwork we had.
PIC 7: Innovation Week day 5, Katrina Cirule
The overall execution of the week was successful and everyone on the team learned a lot, me included. We achieved our end goal of making money, even though it was not a huge amount, it was still something to be proud of. The most important thing was bringing the team together and that for sure this week did and from different angles as well. I knew that a leader has a big role in setting the mood, but during this week it came even more clear to me that motivating people is something that truly inspires me which is why I want to keep doing it in different ways in different teams. It was a great experience and good to see improvement areas overall in the team, in myself, and in the ideas we had.
Written By: Emilia Parikka
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