No Limits

Published: November 27, 2012
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How did they do it? The follow-up survey suggested the team had knocked the cover off the ball. In six short months, every recommended action had been addressed and the business results were the buzz of the senior leadership team. Raising the bar to this level was, to many, a setup for disappointment. The industry's track record predicted a growth ceiling.

The ambitiousness of the project couldn’t have been anticipated because the team had never stretched themselves to this degree. Sure, everyone bought into a culture of innovation, but most believed this meant freedom to be creative. Take smart risks. Be willing to fail in order to succeed. Embrace differences in perspective. All of the basic anchors of innovation were defined.

When the team leaders looked at the challenge, though, they began by questioning limits. Why are we aiming our product at the same target market as our competitors? What would happen if, rather than merely pushing the limits, we obliterated them? Why can’t our product thrive wherever consumers call work, home, or play? What would we need to deliver to make our product as unique and dynamic as each person who uses it?

The team found rare air. The call to action had done more than igniting creativity. As they pushed themselves to the next level, they discovered an affinity for tension. Productive conflict became normal as teammates dared each other to challenge their positions. Discomfort was expected.

These are the rules of engagement for continuous evolution. Complacency is the enemy. Celebration makes you vulnerable. As soon as you start to feel like you’ve forged something never before accomplished, a new opportunity arises that wouldn’t have been visible without the labor just completed. So you walk away from the temptations of claiming victory and reboot the team for the next iteration of amazing.

This kind of innovation doesn’t come from running faster or working more hours. Nor does it grow out of permission to think independently. It comes from a blending of souls and the chemical reactions sparked in the laboratory of healthy culture. It comes from the courage to be exposed. It comes from asking impossible questions about taboo topics. It comes from the delivery of your essence in every expression of your craft.

Soon to become an internal best practice for the parent company, the team must now find time to share the lessons of this project with their counterparts. The bottom-up momentum has begun. There are no limits to where it can go.

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Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.