Innovation is crucial for long-term economic growth. Yet there is no guaranteed recipe for cultivating innovation. Communities of practice can definitely unlock innovation potential - as long as you like complexity.
Sometimes, I really want faster results. Recently, while managing a change project, someone said to me, 'The question is, can you take a small step back and see what’s going to happen?' Challenging!
Change in perspective
What I see more and more is that it takes a change in perspective - next to proactive commitment, perseverance and a fair amount of trust – before we can have a transformative experience that results in innovative solutions. We - executives, investors, HR professionals, works councils, employees, individuals - are all challenged by increased complexity and by the fact that complexity goes hand in hand with ambiguity, which creates uncertainty and stress. In addition to that, we are under pressure to create a competitive advantage through innovative ideas, innovative structures, and innovative products.
What does this mean for organisations, teamwork and leadership style? If we trust the future leadership report 2017, it could mean that factors like diversity and effectiveness might finally replace economies of scale as a decisive productivity factor. According to the report, what formerly asked for a “plan”, nowadays requests “agility”. “Control” needs to give way to “self-organisation”. “Avoiding mistakes” means “getting stronger when going through a crisis”. And, finally, traditional “project management” needs to develop into “system awareness”.
New leadership style
Such a change in perspective definitely asks for a new leadership style. The renowned Austrian business thinker Fredmund Malik demands that managers of the 21st century become “masters of complexity”, whose task will be to encourage and empower their teams - their innovators - to explore new perspectives, participate in the decision-making process, and co-create innovation with their customers. To master this complexity, executives will need to learn to enjoy meandering roads, deal with ambiguity, and relinquish control.
Needless to say that communities of practice (CoP) can be an ideal setting for what the masters of complexity and their teams will have to accomplish. CoP provide a dynamic and creative environment for practitioners. They connect open-minded, curious and committed explorers – experts – who are ready to try out new methods and tools with the aim to find new solutions to complex problems.
Let’s hope that modern leaders will embrace their new role. Let's hope that they will be able to step aside - rather than back - and allow for offsites, retreats, experiential labs – communities of pratice – to flourish. This is where innovation potential can be unlocked. In their CoP, practitioners can develop and expand their repertoire, try out new techniques and take responsibility - and thus help executives drive the business in all its complexity.