Click here to watch a diverse Ideo team design a new shopping cart. Yawn… shopping cart…  Wait – is that you looking bored?  If so, then perhaps you’ve never done battle with a shopping cart – small radius turns, lack of brakes, losing it, lifting it, watching it roll across the parking lot and bang into a car, or perhaps most concerning, have a child hurt on one.  Watch what happens as Ideo accepts the challenge (it appears to come, not surprisingly, from Whole Foods Market) and see the prototype they have a few days later.  The entire process is fascinating, from the project plan, to the cast of players, to the field research, to design review sessions, to a prototype.

Watching the video, three things become very clear:

a)      People are valued for their unique strengths & capabilities.

b)      While the leaders say there is no hierarchy, that isn’t true. There is, and you can see it.  What is true is that the leadership leads, listens, and helps without ego.

c)       Their values statements are simple but powerful – not your typical platitudes – just effective tools for supporting humans at work, like “suspending judgment” when a new idea is presented.

In parallel, I had a chat with my brother, also an engineer with a business background.  He had just found an HBR article, hot off the press, on the same firm, Ideo, in regards to being a “helping organization.”  What is a helping organization?

It is a culture of collaborative help to achieve innovation and desired outcomes.  It consists of designated helpers who spend some portion of their time as sounding boards, advisors, etc., as teams advance projects.  The authors of the article talk about the “helping map” – and it turns out, that there was a pattern of innovation success that emerged.  Some people help innovation more than others.  Have you ever said to someone, “Hey, can I bounce an idea off of you?”  or “Can I get your opinion on something…”  That’s a helping partnership.  Once those bonds are created and tested, they are strengthened by a sense of satisfaction and success for both parties.

I recommend you read it (click here to see part of it) but let me summarize a couple of points:

  • Effective helpers were most often selected based on trust (asking for help does feel vulnerable – I’m not so good at it myself) over competency. In other words, it wasn’t necessarily subject matter expertise that was the driving factor.
  • Helping was inspired, not forced.  The climate was crafted to support collaboration over competition and leaders led by example.  Both sides were all in – the helper and the helpee. This was key to repeatedly solving complex problems.
  • Ideo’s helping map was different from other companies, with a broad and diverse graph, indicating that many people are engaged in the process for a variety of reasons (beyond competence).  Their graph was unlike most organizations which often have a clique view or a hub/spoke pattern where everyone goes to the same one or two people.

Imagine if we add Strengthsfinder results to the mix! I believe it would increase the odds of success because strengths are patterns of excellence unrelated to skills.  You might come to me for generating ideas, and I might come to you for help with analytical thinking.  Helping partnerships would be based both on past helping experience and known natural talent.  It adds another layer.

Do you work in a Helping Organization?  What does your Helping Map look like, and why do you go to those people?  Who do you help?  Could you be intentionally more helpful (and ask for help) and achieve better results?  Could I?