Teams with growth mindsets worry less about looking smart and more about learning.
Think about the high-performing teams you’ve encountered throughout your career. Chances are, they had a few things in common. Do any of these traits sound familiar?
They weren’t afraid to take risks, even if the stakes were high.
They embraced big, audacious goals, welcoming the chance to expand their skill sets and prove themselves.
They weren’t tightly bound to legacy ways of working, but instead were eager to try new processes, tools, or methodologies.
All of these characteristics fall into one category: the growth mindset.
The study of fixed vs. growth mindsets in individuals, largely pioneered by Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck, provides fascinating insights into how our beliefs determine our behavior, level of effort, and ultimately, our success or failure. Applying these same concepts to teams can help create a culture of creativity and expansion.
Because here’s the really cool part: anyone can learn how to shift into a growth mindset. Yes, even teams that are stuck in a fixed-mindset mentality.
Carol Dweck’s theory on mindsets
First, let’s define our mindset models. According to Dr. Dweck, most individuals exhibit behaviors that align with one of two mindsets: fixed or growth.
People with fixed mindsets think traits are innate. “Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character,” Dweck explains. In a nutshell, your success depends on your aptitude. You’re smart or you’re not. You’re good at something or you’re not. It is what it is.
People with growth mindsets believe that success is determined by effort. In her Ted Talk, Dweck explains how one word can define the growth mindset: yet. As in, “I haven’t learned how to do that, yet,” “I haven’t mastered that, yet,” “I don’t understand that, yet.” Every obstacle provides an opportunity for learning. Individuals with growth mindsets recover from mistakes quickly, recognizing them as part of the learning process.
These mindsets start to manifest early, when most of us are still in grade school. “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence,” says Dweck. “They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Teams have mindsets, too
In an article Dweck co-authored for the Harvard Business Review, she and her colleagues spell out how this can look in the workplace. “Managers and organizational cultures often signal to employees what types of mindsets are valued on the job — such as whether employees should be singular in focus or open to new areas.”
The key is cultivating a culture where the focus is on acquiring knowledge and expanding skill sets, rather than rewarding “star employees.” Dweck explains it this way:
When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.”
Which mindset drives your team?
How can you tell if your people are embracing a growth mindset? There are four “Ts” you can use to find out.
Tracking vs. trust
How does your team evaluate productivity and value-add? It comes down to two T’s – tracking (which is concerned with measuring output, work hours, and boxes checked) or trust (which is based on the belief that teammates will work on what is important and needed because we are all working towards a shared goal).
A fixed work mindset on your team would manifest as people being singularly focused on what’s gotten done. A growth work mindset would mean that team members were embracing trust and focusing on outcomes instead of outputs.
Top-down vs. transparency
How does information flow within your team and at your company? A top-down approach means that decisions, responsibilities, and priorities are decided by those in leadership positions. A transparent approach means that the key information that’s needed for decision-making and prioritization is available to all.
A fixed work mindset would prefer a top-down information flow, while a growth mindset would embrace transparency, trusting that every member of a team has something valuable to contribute to the collective work at hand.
Embracing the growth mindset as a team
To shift your team to a growth mindset, follow these four tips.
1. Start slow
Some teams operate successfully within a fixed mindset, especially those with predictable duties and workflows. If that’s true for your team, it might not be appropriate to call for a complete overhaul of your ways of working – but you can start with some small things to cultivate a growth mindset.
One easy place to start is with information sharing. Even with fixed duties or workflows, providing information to everyone on the team and company about how your work gets done will only increase your ability to grow and improve.
2. Measure outcomes, not hours
Growth-minded individuals like being judged on outcomes, not vanity metrics like work hours. There’s even a term for this: trust-based working.
Dr. Michael Ilgner, Global Head of Human Resources at Deutsche Bank, explained it this way in an interview with the World Economic Forum: “The old way is where you come in, work your time, and leave again. But this way, you hand over the responsibility to people. You set them a task — ‘By tomorrow, we want to have that strategy done’ — then leave it up to them how effectively they use their time.”
3. Default to transparency
Get comfortable with open access to information that will empower your team to work better. At worst, secrecy kills motivation. At best, it slows down work as people wait for permission to access files.
Atlassian’s collaboration tool, Confluence, defaults to transparency. Every document in your team or company’s Confluence space is viewable by other team members and coworkers, unless you opt to restrict access. Within our own company, we’ve seen this help teams make faster decisions and work more efficiently. Of course, you can use permissions settings to make the necessary documents private, but you won’t have to worry about coworkers not having access to the information they need.
4. Design for innovation
A growth mindset on your team is one that seeks to constantly improve, and that’s a good thing for your business because companies must continually adapt to stay alive. A fixed mindset would manifest itself in fear of trying something new because of the potential of failure – but failure is actually something to be celebrated because it makes us learn.
You can boost innovation by designing opportunities for creativity, like we do at Atlassian with our quarterly hackathon. Encouraging employees to work outside of their comfort zones without fear of consequences is a powerful way to cultivate a growth mindset.
To learn more about how your team can transition to a growth mindset by