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Just as I was getting settled into our virtual existence, we are slowly starting to get back to in-person events. For many of us, this includes planning for the eventual return to our workplaces after an extended time away.

I admit that I have mixed emotions (and perhaps you do, too) about how we’ll manage being physically present at work and resuming social activities, but I am excited about interacting with people face-to-face again.

I feel myself growing and flexing creative muscles that I didn’t have to use prior to March 2020. Moving forward, we’ll need new ideas and approaches to have a successful return-to-work experience.

That will be accomplished a lot faster and more efficiently if we all ask lots of questions, suspend our judgment, and make our needs known. In other words, we need to exhibit the innovation behaviors of bravery, curiosity, and signaling.

Bravery is the Crux of Innovation

Innovators challenge the status quo. They ask, “Why not?” It takes intellectual bravery to challenge and oppose your coworkers or your manager in order to find solutions to problems. It also takes bravery to suspend your judgement and try new things.

Here are a few ways managers can help employees feel confident that they won’t be judged or admonished for exhibiting bravery:

  • Encourage divergent thinking by letting your team come up with as many ideas to solve a problem as possible without shooting them down.
  • Create opportunities for your team to contribute to projects outside of their regular roles.
  • Brainstorm new ideas, and then assign specific team members to challenge the course of action and to find flaws with the developed ideas.

Keep in mind: Bravery is the crux of innovation.

Be Intentionally Curious

Studies have shown that curiosity peaks at four years old and declines after five. I don’t know about you, but I’m far from four years old!

If we are not intentional about being curious and engaging in exploratory behaviors, we can slip into a fixed mindset. Think about all of the questions you once asked when you were a kid or the questions that your children may ask you now. You explored the world through inquisitive eyes with no fear of judgment.

The next time you’re assigned a task, I challenge you to not just finish the task as assigned. Question the process and the overall goals. Gone are the days when we said this is how we do things, or that’s not my job.

With change happening so rapidly, organizations and their employees must be constant learners to compete in shifting markets.

Use Signaling to Set Clear Expectations

In the innovation department, we start meetings by signaling the expected behaviors from each session attendee. We call it “How 2 Bee.”

You may ask, “Why bumblebees?” According to certain studies, insects can innovate to solve complex problems. Such mental flexibility helps bumblebees to overcome human-caused changes to their environment.

We are looking for that same mental flexibility from each session attendee. Signaling allows us to set clear expectations by telling people what we need, how we want them to be, and how we want them to react.

Have you ever presented a starter idea at a meeting that was shot down immediately? Our team signals expectations, while at the same time protecting starter ideas, with statements like this: I’m not certain where this idea is going, but I would like your help with building it out. To further signal expectations, managers can create their own “How 2 Bees” for meetings by listing them in the email meeting invite.

I’m concerned and curious about what returning to the office will look like. I honestly can’t imagine the elevator experience. However, if we are intentional about setting our judgement, ego, and concerns on a shelf, we can grow through this next phase by challenging the status quo, asking many questions, and making our expectations known.

Visit innovation.ibx.com for more information about innovation behaviors and tools.