The 21st century has seen the immense rise of teams in the workplace. It’s an obvious solution to handle the complex and fast-moving challenges we’re facing today; there simply are few problems we can solve alone anymore. But collaborative overload is emerging. The Harvard Business Review found this leads to anxious and overworked employees. Worse still, their research shows that often only 3%-5% of employees are the ones adding 20%-35% of the value.
How do you get all of your team members to be adding significant value in their teamwork? By unlocking their collective intelligence capabilities. And that’s where the concept of Expansive Thinking can help.
How does Expansive Thinking help?
Many teams simply aren’t getting enough added value from their collaborations. The output could be exemplified by the simple math equation 1 + 1 = 2. They complete their individual tasks and when those tasks are put together, they combine to a linear output. Good teams can sometimes make 1 + 1 = 3, meaning they shared knowledge and created a shared solution using a combination of the team’s current knowledge.
But how do we make 1 + 1 = 12? How do we get teams to create exponential value from being a team? With Expansive Thinking practices.
How does the Expansive Thinking process work?
Expansive Thinking is an exploration process focused on facilitating the collective intelligence of the team. It is unique in that each idea shared in the group is connected to the last idea shared, with the ideas being “stacked” on top of each other to build something new and meaningful. One Expansive Thinking baseline “law” is that every team member allows that the last comment has at least 10% truth, agrees with it and expands from there. In doing so, we save the time and energy expended when team members argue about what won’t work about the idea. Instead of a focus on closing our thinking, there is a focus on opening our thinking to see new ideas of what is possible.
If you’ve ever been to an improv show and noticed the actors always say “Yes! And…” to continue on the story — no matter how ridiculous! — then you already have a sense for what creativity can emerge with those magic words. Expansive Thinking says “yes” to a part of every idea and then expands it further.
In an Expansive Thinking conversation, people aren’t sharing their pre-thought-through opinions and ideas. Each person takes what has been shared and actively creates in the here and now. Team members can’t prepare their opinions ahead of time as the conversation flows “in the moment.” That is the way that true expansion and innovation can occur.
How can your team get started?
To foster Expansive Thinking on your team, here are three steps to get started today.
1. Prepare for Expansive Thinking.
Focus first on putting together a team with diverse perspectives and always include at least one “wild card” member. A wild card is someone who brings a completely different outsider advantage and is not limited by expertise or experience in your area. Include an intern, a member of the custodial staff or your friend who is a pilot. If you can’t find a wild card member to join, create your own in the space and act the part. What would a biologist add here? A zookeeper? A Hollywood film producer? It’s exactly because they may not seem immediately relevant to the discussion that they can begin to expand your possibilities.
Once the team members are selected, set up the best conditions to bring out maximum creativity and focus for your team. Hold your meeting in a non-traditional space (even while working remote, you can have the team all go for a walk outside and have a brainstorming call while enjoying nature). Make sure that, wherever you are, the space is “noise canceled,” meaning distractions like email and chat notifications are turned off.
2. Put Expansive Thinking into action.
Expansive Thinking requires careful facilitation to ensure that true “listening to build” is happening. Most of us have been trained to “listen to respond” (and too often “listen to find problems with”). A few team members may have the ability to “listen to understand.” However, it is an almost completely new skillset to “listen to build.” Listening to build asks you to see new opportunities in what others say and consider what new information you could add to the other person’s idea. This requires suspending judgment, which is often the hardest part for team members.
Because Expansive Thinking asks for real-time creativity, it is difficult to pre-plan thoughts or ideas. This requires a level of comfort and openness to not knowing, which can often be unnerving for team members. It may take time for team members to get used to the fear of potentially “looking stupid” in front of others. A great leader can facilitate the psychological safety needed to make Expansive Thinking truly accepting of all ideas.
3. Transition out of Expansive Thinking.
Expansive Thinking timing is like the story of Goldilocks: We don’t want to spend too little time expanding, but we also don’t want to spend too much time without seeing any tangible results. Make sure your team is really exploring beyond the initial ideas that “easily” come to mind because nothing truly expansive has yet occurred. Once it gets uncomfortable, you know you’ve just hit the beginning of the true exploration. When you’ve passed the point where innovative ideas are running low, you can begin the process for closure and help the team move to critical thinking and execution planning.
Teams enjoy Expansive Thinking because they find it creative, interesting, encouraging and positive. Instead of the usual fighting and defending, Expansive Thinking creates a space to draw out the best ideas and insights from the team. This new ability to harness your team’s collective intelligence can bring your team to whole new levels of success, helping to raise engagement, satisfaction, innovation and, ultimately, profits.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com