This is Part four in our series about Adaptive Leadership in a Time of Uncertainty.

This week, we take a closer look at Bias Toward Action—specifically its connection to values and what we can learn when things don’t work out as we planned. We also introduce a process that Overlap uses to help support organizations to practice risk-taking behaviour together.

This article was written collaboratively by Rachel Hofstetter, Overlap’s Vice-President and General Manager, and Nicole Francoeur, a Designer on Overlap’s Programs team.

Bias Toward Action is closely associated with Design Thinking

The process itself means that we do something, learn, decide, move forward again, learn, decide, and so on. This is not without risk, but because it is married to the intention of learning after each action, we are minimizing some of that risk along the way. DesignThinkingProcessDiagram_V1a_WithText

Behaviour stems from our values

Organizational value alignment is critical to creating a vibrant, inclusive, and productive workplace environment. This is particularly pronounced when it comes to Bias Toward Action. Leadership can set the stage for a supportive risk-taking environment by leaning into new ways of working and highlighting initiatives that inspire staff and encourage them to reflect. Optimism is contagious!

Although we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to playfully jumping in and trying something new without having all the details, flexing this muscle can help strengthen your team and move to solutions quicker. Wasn’t it Churchill that said “perfection is the enemy of progress”?

At Overlap, two of our values are optimism and curiosity. When the pandemic emerged, we had to find a way to quickly pivot our work with valued clients from in-person sessions—that had been in planning for months—to on-line/virtual sessions and still deliver with quality. Actioning our values meant that our team enthusiastically dug into solutions rather than looking for reasons to postpone sessions. At a time of uncertainty, Overlappers embodied a sense of optimism and moved a two-day in-person retreat into a series of three online sessions that supported the same outcomes for the client.

Taking risks, however, does not come without failure.

Risks don’t always work out, but it’s how you respond that counts

First of all, cut yourself a break. After all, when you have a creative vision that involves dreaming big and taking risks, you are likely to experience some disappointment along the way. At the very least, it is a great opportunity to learn and cultivate strength and resilience in your organization. In a best-case scenario, it can lead you to new and interesting opportunities you hadn’t thought of.

We’ve been hosting a series of webinars since the pandemic began on a variety of topics. During one of our live webinars, the main host’s webinar completely crashed. From that experience, we learned the importance of having a technical host in the background that can provide support and be a back-up when the unexpected happens. We took a risk, we fumbled, and we learned. One of so many examples!

When risks don’t work out, leaders who respond with vulnerability can both create space for learning and continue to foster an environment of risk-taking. According to Brené Brown, the power of vulnerability lies in these three things:

  • Courage—having the courage to be imperfect;
  • Compassion—for the self and others; and
  • Connection—letting go of preconceived ideas in order to make real, genuine connections.

Supporting organizations to take risks through virtual design sprints

While design sprints have been a part of Overlap’s core service offerings since we opened our doors 8 years ago, we are now running them virtually for organizations using a platform called Sprintbase. These fast-paced sprints operationalize the process of risk-taking by applying the design thinking process to produce better, more innovative solutions to challenges that really matter. Going out and getting feedback about ideas and prototypes early and often allows teams to iterate on solutions before spending too much time developing them. Leaders are instrumental in the design sprint as they need to embody the values required to take risks and come to the table with an open mind to what may unfold throughout the process.

If you want to share more about Bias Toward Action in your organization or hear more about Overlap’s virtual design sprints, please reach out!