Unlocking the Power of Your Team’s Mindset for the Future

I love helping leaders prepare for the future and navigate change. To help my clients and students, I read every industry report, book, article, and piece of research that I can get my hands on. I also conduct my own research, and turn all of this research into leadership education and practical tools.

My latest read was Kornferry’s “Covid-19 Leadership Guide: Strategies for Managing Through a Crisis.” In this report, KF provides a list of “8 steps leaders can take now.” I found one of their steps wildly powerful: #6 Be Aware of Mindsets.

Here’s why this tip is so powerful: Mindsets are the key to unlocking engagement, performance, and change agility. What could be more useful these days?

Engagement, performance, and agility are essential ingredients for building future-ready teams, and for “getting back to work” across the world. According to 80% of change experts surveyed, “mindset” will be the MOST challenging hurdle to getting back to work in the new virtual world.

Over the last decade, I’ve studied thousands of leaders and their teams. My mission has been to identify the Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset that future-ready leaders and teams have in common.

I’ve used this research to develop practical tools and strategies that leaders can use to prepare for the future and navigate disruptive change.

In this article, I want to share five powerful mindset hacks that I’ve discovered that will help you identify and leverage your team’s mindset for the future — even in spite of all the uncertainty and chaos!

A Mindset System For Future-Ready Teams

While researching and writing my book, Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I started to develop an interest in how-to build teams that are future-focused and change-ready.

This interest grew from my research on digital disruption. But it also came from the discoveries about leaders and teams that I had made over two decades of consulting. Simple put, teams struggle with:

  1. reconciling how “we’ve always done things” in the past, with
  2. managing the demands of the present, and
  3. preparing for the uncertainty of the future.

Teams struggle with these aspects of managing change and preparing for the future for several reasons. For instance, human beings are neurologically wired to fear the uncertainty of the future. At our core, we are “certainty-making” machines.

But some of us have a different mental model, or mindset, about what the future holds. Some of us actually like the unknown and have a sense of empowerment and zest for trying to shape the future.

When you pull a group of humans together, give them common goals, and call them a “team,” you are essentially mashing a bunch of mindsets together. It’s like saying, “Make it work mindsets!” This causes communication challenges and conflicts that are the result of differences in perception — differences in mindsets.

Meet the Future Focus Mindsets

Our mindsets work like a mental operating system. They filter information, they drive behavior, they affect how we learn, what we pay attention to, how we feel, what we say, and what we do or don’t do. As such, mindsets have tremendous power over how we “show-up” on a team.

Over the past three years, I have measured hundreds of leaders’ mindsets, and worked with thousands of team members. Based on this research, have identified five “types” of mindsets that impact how leaders and teams approach the future. These mindsets help us understand how leaders and teams approach things like growth, innovation, risk, and change.

Each mindset has it’s own unique value and strength on a team. One is not necessarily better than another. Some mindsets are more useful in certain situations and business models (e.g., Innovators are helpful in a start-up). Each mindset, however, also brings unique struggles to a team when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and taking future-shaping action.

What’s perhaps most interesting about these five Future Focus Mindsets, is that they are unevenly distributed across teams and organizations. Futurists and Historians are the most rare, accounting for less than 20% of the population. Opportunists are the most common at 34% of leaders surveyed. Here’s a bit more about what each mindset brings to your team.

Future Focus Mindsets

Historians derive wisdom from past experiences and patterns. They approach the future through the lens of the past. “We’ve tried this before.” Or “At my previous organization we used to…” are commonly heard from Historians.

Observers, despite what the name suggests, are not passive about the future. Team members with this mindset are active observers of emerging and unfolding trends. They are keen to take a “watch and see” stance.

Opportunists want to get in the game before the masses. They want to “catch the next wave” of opportunity before others do. They have a knack for sorting through the risks and rewards, and can be a great “bridge” between Historians and Futurists.

Innovators are ingenious, hard-working and creative people. They are designers, builders, entrepreneurs, and inventors. They don’t just pick up signals about the future, they actively build it, test it, and improve upon it.

Futurists are the most future-focused mindset on the Future Focus Leadership Spectrum. Futurists have a keen sense of what the future will look like, and what trends will unfold. They’re empathic and intuitive dreamers and visionaries. They pick up on signals earlier than most of their teammates.

When all of these mindsets come together on a team, it gets messy. To unlock the value and power of mindsets on a team, leaders need a simple system for dealing with the messiness. Helping virtual teams develop the skillset, toolset, and, most importantly, mindset for virtual teaming one of the most important things leaders should be focusing on!

I also believe that when we can identify and name our mindsets about things like innovation, risk, growth, and time, we can improve our ability to sense signals about what the future will hold, improve our communication, improve our strategic foresight, and shape our future.

In the video below, I share some data about why we need a new mindset for change, and a little more about the Future Focus system, if you’re interested.

Discover why teams new a new Mindset

Five Hacks for Unlocking the Power of Your Team’s Mindsets During Disruptive Change

“The 3 M’s of Agile Leadership” is a tool that I developed and used in Future-Ready Leadership to help leaders build their mindset, toolset, and skillset for change.

I’ve used this tool as the basis for these five mindset hacks. And I’ve added two “Ms” based on my research and development efforts around the Future Focus Mindset system.

Hack #1: Monitor Your Mindset

The first hack is an offensive strategy. Be proactive in monitoring and keeping a pulse on the heart of your organization — your people. While you can’t control the cause of most workplace or market disruption, you can control your response.

We can monitor team mindsets manually by slowing down and having greater mental “presence” (see Chapter 1 in Future-Ready Leadership). Presence allows us to look at and listen to what employees are saying, feeling, and doing based on their mindset. It allows us to gather data. Scan our environment. Listen for signals. And collectively envision possible future scenarios.

Monitoring does not have to involve measuring the mindset itself directly. All you have to do is slow down enough to observe symptomatic behaviors of a given mindset on your team.

Ask powerful questions while you observe team members’ behaviors: Does she make more statements or ask more questions? What’s her biggest priority: the challenges of today or the possibilities of tomorrow? What could be her greatest fear in this situation? What’s her greatest motivator?

You can also monitor your team’s mindsets by:

  1. hosting a virtual coffee or lunch.
  2. scheduling a virtual breakfast or happy hour with the team to listen to their concerns and hopes for the future.
  3. setting up a 1:1 dialogue to listen to how people’s family lives are changing, how their health is, and what new hobbies they’ve taken up.
  4. bringing members of your team together with members of a cross-functional team to explore a topic or question.
  5. scheduling a team development workshop around the topic of mindsets.

These are great monitoring tips to gather information and give employees space to wrestle with the affects that their mindset is having on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And they are especially important to use during times of great uncertainty and disruption — like the present.

Hack #2: Measure the Mindsets that Matter

If you want to go deeper in using mindset science to unlock your team’s potential, you can measure them directly.

For years, pop psychologists have talked about “growth vs. fixed” and “open vs. closed” mindsets (see Kornferry article above). These “either/or” characterizations of mindsets, stemming from the work of Stanford mindset researcher Dr. Carol Dweck, are problematic for several reasons:

  1. they’re not specific to developing strategic foresight or managing change,
  2. they don’t offer actionable mindset measures or tools for leaders and teams, and
  3. they fail to account for the diversity of mindset types on a team — everyone is either “growth” or “ fixed.” What’s in the middle?

But fear not, there is a better, more engaging, and more useful way to measure mindsets for change. Future Focus offers a cutting-edge, powerful tool to pinpoint a person’s dominant mindset (Historian, Observer, Opportunist, Innovator, or Futurist).

I’ve used it to help teams measure and account for the diversity of mindsets that exist within their team or in their organization. The ability to measure and name your mindset provides deep insight about how you approach risk, uncertainty, growth, change, and innovation.

The logic being Future Focus is simple: If you know how other people think, feel, and act toward the uncertainty of the future, then you can more effectively collaborate, innovate, partner, and engage with one another to build shared futures.

Our Mindsets Drive Team Performance

This approach to measuring mindsets, also allows us to track progress in team engagement, performance and innovation, and change readiness. Measuring mindsets is a testament to the managerial wisdom: We can only manage what we can measure!

Hack #3: Modify Through Learning, Planning, and Coaching

Essentially, by giving leaders and employees the right mindset tools, you can empower them to modify their mindset through learning about them. Changing a mindset, according to Dr. Carol Dweck, is relatively easy. A course or lecture on mindsets will do the trick. What’s difficult is sustaining mindset change. This is why you need a system for changing AND sustaining mindset change.

What this looks like in practice is simple: You invite your team to measure their mindset. Your system must involve some level of individual discovery. Individual discovery helps team members make sense of their own individual mindset first. It also helps them get familiar with mindset concepts and language.

Building a Future-Ready Team starts with Measuring and Individual Discovery

Following individual discovery, you need to bring your team together to explore their mindsets together in the context of the team. Learning is a social activity. Team discovery workshops help teams explore the issues of the day and how their mindsets impact how they’re dealing with those issues.

In order to make the “mindshifts” that occur during individual and team discovery stick, you have to create a plan of action and put your plan into practice. On-going learning and coaching help teams stay true to their plan and sustain mindset change. I’ve built all the tools and compiled all the resources in this Quickstart course to help you start making mindset shifts today.

Hack #4: Maintain the Momentum

Agile leaders invest in the maintenance of their people. At the risk of reducing complex human behavior to a set of “mechanisms,” mindset momentum involves continually monitoring and adjusting how we manage our mindsets. Leaders must ask, are we getting the best of our individual and team mindsets? How are we dealing with our blind spots? What’s getting in the way of our desired results?

The essence our shared future will be determined by the quality of the human operating systems and processes we use to deal with uncertainty and manage change.

In 2020, the behavioral landscape has shifted across the globe. The infrastructure has changed. When, where, how, and with whom people are connecting is different. And, from where I sit, we aren’t going back to the past. We’re going to move forward, shaping the future through our teams and through our collaboration. The essence of our shared future will be determined by the quality of the human operating systems and processes we use to deal with uncertainty and manage change.

Maintenance of this behavioral ecosystem will involve investing in employees’ mindsets, toolsets, and skillsets. Yes, we have to do this on tight budgets and with employees working from home. Leaders and teams must become knowledgeable of what mindsets matter today, in order to build and maintain momentum for the future.

In developing Future Focus, I struggled with how to present it to the world. I thought: “Maybe I’ll write another book about it.” Over the last two years of launching and promoting my book, I’ve had many leaders say things like “I appreciate all the tools in your book. But I don’t have time to read.” Or worse, “You know me, I don’t read.” Yikes! This is frightening.

So, instead of writing about Future Focus in a book, I decided to turn it into an interactive virtual learning experience. This allows leaders to take learning about mindsets and the future of work, on the go. They can listen to the lessons from anywhere, at any time, and go at their own pace. This system seems to be working better for busy leaders who “don’t read.”

While a “quickstart” virtual learning experience can build foundational knowledge and skill to maintain mindset change momentum, it is but the first step on the path to mindset mastery.

Building Foundational Knowledge and Skill is Essential

Hack #5: The Path to Mastery

The last hack is mindset mastery. Mastery is a Zen path that has no end, so, as my wife Robin and I say, enjoy the journey.

A sign Robin and I had made to remind us that life is a journey not a destination.

Mastery is about investing in your foundational understanding of the mindsets that matter for change and for the future. It’s about honing your craft as a future-ready leader.

If the events of 2020 have taught us nothing, it’s that no leader is ever 100% “ready” for the uncertainty of the future. There are no crystal balls, and there are no leadership playbooks (sorry Kornferry) for times like these.

Future readiness is about being as prepared for the future as we can be. And being responsive to the present, and responsible for shaping the future.

Mindset mastery involves:

  1. commitment to learning and working with different mindsets on the team.
  2. teaching others and coaching them on their path through change and growth.
  3. curiosity about how to engage and maximize the different mindsets on your team.
  4. resilience and grit for bouncing back from set-backs and team frustrations, and
  5. humility. Mastery is about always keeping a “beginners mind.” It’s about continuous observation and monitoring of how your team is thinking, feeling, and acting.

In closing, unlocking your team’s mindset for the future is about appreciating how different team members see and experience the changing world. It’s about scanning the horizon and looking for signs of change to come. It’s about having the presence of mind to stop, put your ear to the ground, and listen for the next freight train that might be coming down the line. And, regardless of how much experience you have, how much success you’ve achieved, or how much you think you know, it’s about leading with humility. Stay safe and I hope to see you in the future!

Leadership Advisor and Author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He blogs at Leadership4iR.com

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