March 17, 2017

Why Growth Mindset matters for Organisational Agility

By Pamela Ashby | 17 March 2017

Growth mindset is one of those simple, but immensely powerful concepts. For organisations looking to adapt and innovate to maintain their market share and improve their bottom line revenue, this is an important route to cultural change.

The relationship between Agile and growth mindset is a strong one, and used together they can create an effective roadmap to an adaptive and resilient workforce – and an innovative and successful organisation.

So what is a growth mindset?

Carol Dweck initially made the distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. She highlighted that people with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and talent are static entities, whereas those with a growth mindset combine a love of learning with the resilience needed to achieve.

Agile approaches are designed to allow individuals and teams to experiment, learn, and then apply that learning to release early value for the organisation. So an organisation where growth mindset is the norm is likely to be more successful in embedding Agile principles as an organisational culture.

For fixed mindset people, regular retrospectives that review performance and results and seek to find ways to improve, would be very painful and threatening. Research from the NeuroLeadership Institute has shown that fixed mindset professionals focus on proving their ‘fixed’ ability, comparing themselves to their peers, and looking for acknowledgement of their existing skills.

Growth mindset people by contrast would more readily embrace Agile ways. They see improvement as the goal, and welcome the guidance and direction that frequent feedback can offer. These professionals are likely to be more focused on their tasks and less distracted by the need for comparison to others. For them setbacks are more like puzzles that are a challenge to solve.

Being adaptive to change is the bedrock of organisational agility.

When people experience change with a fixed mindset, they question their ability and are worried about others outperforming them. This anxiety reduces the ability to innovate that Agile organisations need. Where teams tend towards a fixed mindset culture and feel competitive, this can block the effective collaboration on which Agile techniques rely, and encourage a silo culture.

As Mark Buchan stresses in his work on Agile leadership, leaders need to take time to understand the mindsets and motivations of their teams, and have the courage to invite feedback on their own performance – modelling the behaviour they would like to see in others and leading by example.