Applying Growth Mindset to Team Performance

By Hien DeYoung, PCC

I was on LinkedIn and an instant survey popped up from Korn Ferry. The question was, “Faced with a choice of two, what would you prioritize in your teams? Skillset or Mindset?” Out of curiosity for the results, I made my choice and waited for the answer. Out of 7,108 votes: Mindset 88% and Skillset 12%. As a coach this made complete sense to me. But not everyone is a coach so why is mindset the overwhelming answer?

In the September 2017 issue of Stanford Magazine, Carol Dweck’s work on mindset is front and center. Her 2006 book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” has sold over 800,000 copies, and the related TEDx talk has been viewed more than 4.7 million times. And surprisingly, it is also somewhat misunderstood. The meta message that underscores the misunderstanding is that a fixed mindset is bad, and a growth mindset is good. Actually we have both, and the encouragement is to lean into the growth mindset. By the way growth mindset is not “positive thinking.”

The actual result of Dweck’s research is this — if you believe that ability is inborn, then you have a fixed mindset. However, if you believe ability can be developed then you have a growth mindset. It’s fairly straight forward. So what does it look like when applied?

Let’s look at three aspects of Carol Dweck’s research, and the questions that will enable us and our teams to lean towards a growth mindset.

“The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,” Dweck says, and “‘Learning goals’ inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than ‘performance goals.’”

What kind of goals are you setting for yourself and your team? Is learning a core aspect or is it predominantly performance oriented? Performance dominant goals lead to self-protection because failure becomes personal. This can play out by not taking risks and behaving in self-protective ways. On the other hand, learning goals invite curiosity, exploration and tenacity, behaviors that lead to thriving and achieving because failure is viewed as opportunity to iterate and try again.

  • In what ways can you instill learning as a core aspect of goal outcomes?
  • If that’s not possible, what would it look like to incorporate learning as the quality measure for goal attainment?

“People who attributed their failures to lack of ability…would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable,” Says Dweck. “Those who thought they simply hadn’t tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks.”

Morale, engagement and connection takes more intention and effort in the hybrid work environment. Having a growth mindset or fixed mindset will enable or disable team members’ ability to flourish or struggle in this new environment.

  • How are you attributing your adaptation to the hybrid work environment? Are you attributing it to your failure and learn cycle? Or are you attributing it to your natural abilities?
  • How are you articulating and modeling your growth mindset so your team members can mimic from your example?
  • What attribution does your team use?

“Common sense suggests that ability inspires self-confidence. And it does for a while  — so long as the going is easy. But setbacks change everything.”

Setbacks and disappointments are part of the business terrain. In the past couple years with COVID complicating global markets, setbacks and disappointments seem to be popping up in unforeseen ways. How ready are you and your team for the setbacks and disappointments that can erode confidence?

  • What is your team culture towards setbacks and disappointments? Are they acknowledged and digested for learning, or is it heads down work harder? What does that framing lead to?
  • What would change after setbacks and disappointments if you framed them as valuable learning to be iterated on towards success? In what ways would this add to the agility and resiliency of your team?

We have both the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. They both serve us, and the question is which one do we gravitate to the most? When we lean into the growth mindset in a transparent manner, we invite our team to mimic us, thus enabling their growth, agility, and tenacity to navigate and thrive in unpredictable business terrain.

To learn more about fostering a growth mindset and strengthening your leadership skills, contact Hien for a consultation.