The importance of cultivating a growth mindset in your organisation – and how to do it

The importance of cultivating a growth mindset in your organisation - seeds growing in pots

If I was asked to pick the one thing you can do to make your organisation more successful, focusing on mindset would be it.

I believe it is the main challenge most organisations have, and getting it right makes a huge difference to your future success.

In this blog, we are focusing on cultivating a growth mindset in your organisation, I’ll explore the importance of being an evolutionary or learning organisation, what those phrases actually mean, and how getting it right can take you from chaos to calm.

Is my organisation in chaos? 

First, I want to look in a bit more detail at the idea of chaos, and what we mean when we say organisations, or parts of them, are in chaos.

Chaos is everywhere within organisations because they are complex. They are complex because they involve people.  

In my book Influential Internal Communication I talk about the fact that without communication there is chaos. What people usually picture when they hear that word is people running around aimlessly, a major crisis underway, and everyone in a state of panic. This is rarely the case.

Chaos is all around us all the time, but it’s not always as obvious as you might think. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of chaos is ‘a total state of confusion with no order’. So, not complete panic, more a sense of nobody really knowing what they, or others, are meant to be doing in any given situation. 

Another interesting thing to note is that chaos theory in mathematics suggests that the apparent randomness of chaos is false. There are underlying connections, patterns and loops. If we look at this idea alongside the dictionary definition, we can see how it can be applied to organisations.  

There are often patterns within the confusion that, if we work at unpicking them, can help move you towards calm. Even where there is complexity, you can find the ability to bring control.

The chaos you see in organisations is always the symptom of something bigger and getting to the root cause is important. Those symptoms might include high turnover of staff, teams not working well together, a culture of greed at the top, lack of governance, people off with stress – it manifests in lots of different ways.  

Depending on the symptoms and the root cause, the fix could be to look at whether you have an evolutionary mindset and if you are a learning organisation. This is something that has come up more recently with the leadership teams we have been working with. Helping people explore mindset to help them lead and shifting the culture of the organisation into one that wants to learn are both so important in workplaces today.

What does it mean to be an evolutionary or learning organisation, and what mindset do you need to get there? 

Research by Smith and Saint-Onge suggests that an organisation needs to be evolutionary in approach, adopting a mindset that is comfortable with change and also the ability to influence habits, thinking and learning.  This is easier said than done as I’m not sure many of us are comfortable with change. Life has conditioned us not to be.

An evolutionary organisation takes a systemic approach to this, overcoming this resistance. It looks at the component parts inside organisations, the processes, the systems, the design and takes a learning, or growth mindset, approach.

To bring the balance needed to control chaos, you have to adopt a mindset that enables you to work through things and see how balance can be created, in order to take things forward.

As a leadership team this is imperative, and it’s why the make-up of that team is so important. There should be complementary skills in there which allow us to challenge each other in a constructive way.  

In the book, The Fish Rots From the Head by Bob Garatt, which I read after becoming a certified company director, there is a whole chapter on what he calls ‘the learning board’. For a board to be a learning board it must be looking at these four areas simultaneously:

  • An external perspective 
  • An internal perspective 
  • A long-term perspective 
  • A short-term perspective 
  • This can feel quite challenging but, as leaders in organisations, if you want to change into a learning organisation or mindset this is the first step.  

The importance of humility for growth

Another fascinating book on this topic is The Fearless Organisation by Amy Edmondson.

Edmonson talks about the fact that a learning mindset blends humility and curiosity. Humility is a trait that we need leaders in every organisation to have.

Humility is simply recognising that you don’t have all the answers, which then naturally encourages curiosity. According to Edmondson, research tells us that when leaders express humility, teams engage in more learning behaviour.  

How can we move towards a growth mindset?

A mindset can be defined as the accumulated shared perceptions or assumptions of a given group. It  covers behavioural, cognitive and emotional elements of the group’s psychological functioning.

The group’s mindset gains power because it operates outside of consciousness, acting like a conditioned reflex.

Just like in other areas of our life, even as we try to change our mindsets, our old ones often come forward under conditions of stress, threat or anxiety.  Old habits will always come back when things go wrong – for example giving in to chocolate cravings when trying to follow a healthy diet!

I believe there are eight key points to consider to help you become a learning organisation and to strengthen or grow an evolutionary mindset:

  • We can often forget about the need to be aware and able when it comes to change. You might be aware of things not being right, but do you have the ability to change them? Being able to change is the skillset we need to really work on.

  • Organisations are people. If you don’t understand people, it’s going to be hard to change both the organisation and your mindset. You have to understand what it is to be human and take time to invest in relationships.


  • Start with humility – what don’t you know and how do you want to learn? We all learn differently so knowing your own preferences is important. I know that I don’t learn well watching online events, so the pandemic was a challenge for me when some of the main in-person events I attend went online! 

     
  • Understand your own mindset and blockers to moving forwards. Look at the reasons why you might be procrastinating. Is it fear? A lack of knowledge on a particular topic?


  • Understand how your organisation reacts when chaos hits. Do you bury your heads in the sand, procrastinate and do anything to avoid it? Or do you recognise it and openly discuss the symptoms and possible reasons for its development? It is the mindset of avoidance that lands us in toxic chaos territory.  


  • Understand how your organisation reacts when chaos hits. Do you bury your heads in the sand, procrastinate and do anything to avoid it? Or do you recognise it and openly discuss the symptoms and possible reasons for its development? It is the mindset of avoidance that lands us in toxic chaos territory.  


  • The mindset has to focus on business outcomes and what needs to change in order to bring a sense of calm. It isn’t always easy.


  • Be prepared to learn from mistakes and make it ok to talk about where things have gone wrong.


  • Be approachable and accessible and proactively invite input from others across the organisation. If we’re not listening, talking, discussing, we’re not learning.


Getting all this right is no easy task, and certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But when you can cultivate this sort of open, listening, learning mindset, your organisation will see the benefits.

Fundamentally, it’s all about people and understanding them.

Listen to your organisation – at every level, accept that you don’t always get things right, be prepared to learn some hard lessons, and work out where you can make changes, and you’ll be moving in the right direction.

You can listen to the full discussion around this on this episode of the Redefining Communications podcast with Jenni Field.

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Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.