Preparation and Empowerment: Keys to Successful Innovation

Posted by Joel Bennett on

by Nolan Davis

I am currently a Masters student at the University of Texas at Arlington, studying Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I began my internship for OWLS in March 2023. I have loved my time here, as I work on a wealth of diverse projects while getting to know some excellent people.

            So far, my favorite project has been one that just recently wrapped up. OWLS consulted on, and implemented, a strategic innovation consulting program for the entire staff of North Texas Healthy Communities (NTHC). NTHC is the well-being and community outreach arm of Texas Health Resources and has recently been in the news for improving food access, supporting the build of community gardens, following on the heels of their efforts building the largest certified Blue Zones Project® community in the United States.

OWLS’ goal of the training series was to encourage creative thinking and strategy development within the team, as they had found themselves in a period of change. The program consisted of breaking the entire team into small groups, and (over a course of several months) giving a framework and tools to help these groups brainstorm to develop their own innovative program for NTHC. At the end of this project, each group presented their new strategy to the entire team. I learned a great deal from these efforts, distilling what I learned into 2 major points.

Preparation is Essential (Capacity Building)

This one might sound obvious, but it was something that I had not considered until we started the project. I was surprised by just how much thought went into preparing and creating a program that would meet the needs of NTHC. This included multiple interviews and focus groups with employees at different levels, along with several data review and analysis sessions at OWLS to understand the big picture and root-causes. Almost all projects at OWLS emphasize capacity building; that is, discerning, building upon, adapting to, and leveraging the readiness of our clients. Learn more about capacity building here [1,2,3].

Preparations did not only center on interviews. It was more fun than that! Our first session consisted of team-building exercises centered around the participants getting to know each other better, and humor. To help the participants know each other better, exercises such as the Adobe Creative Types and Unfreezing Techniques were used. To help facilitate, our colleague and “humor expert” Mallori DeSalle utilized her expertise through activities such as Lego Play. Bringing in Mallori relates to one of the five core values at OWLS—Collaborative. We do not hesitate to bring in friends and colleagues and Mallori helped us plan this first session.

Some might see all this as a waste of time. Some employees even admitted that they were hesitant to give up work time for fun and play, but I was surprised at how impactful and effective this meeting was. Devoting an entire session to team-building allowed everyone to let their guards down, feel cared about, and comfortable not only with the OWLS team, but with their fellow coworkers. This paid off during the subsequent sessions when everyone came present, prepared, and excited to brainstorm.

Give Participants Freedom (Empowerment)

Empowerment was the most illuminating lesson for me. Previously, when I imagined “consultation” in my head, I saw some expert consultant coming into a business, telling employees what they should do, how they should do it, and leaving. There are likely many settings where this could be appropriate and effective, but I saw a much different approach. OWLS utilizes a strengths-based philosophy and process consultation and humble inquiry methods developed by Edgar Schein. Watch this interview for more information.

OWLS simply gave the NTHC team the tools and freedom to think creatively. Our job was not to come up with creative ideas for them, but instead prompt them to draw on their innate strengths, contemplate, and develop ideas on their own. Much of our time was spent listening in on small group discussions and asking open-ended questions, guiding NTHC to iteratively clarify, iron out, and own any potential new program.

Empowerment was the right approach for this group. Many had been with NTHC for quite a long time, and so knew the ins and outs of their work much better than we at OWLS ever could. We did not try to identify potential new strategies that could benefit their work, but instead let them do so on their own. This not only led to creative ideas, but it also helped everyone feel invested in their work and the future growth of their program as a whole.

I think more consultants might benefit from this strategy of letting the client showcase their expertise at times. Ultimately, by doing so, clients simultaneously MEET THEIR GOALS and have a MEANINGFUL experience. I should mention that everyone on the team received a copy of “Your Best Self at Work” (written by Dr. Ben Dilla and OWLS CEO, Joel Bennett). Dr. Dilla was also part of the OWLS team for this project.

A Sense of Accomplishment

The entire experience with NTHC taught me many lessons while also reinforcing how great of a need there is for the work OWLS does. The NTHC employees were some of the most passionate I have ever seen. They truly cared about their work and the service to support healthy communities across multiple counties in North Texas. Each one of them had the potential to think creatively and strategically. However, they were simply unable to due to lack of time in their day-to-day pressures. Time spent with OWLS – and small assignments we gave them – enabled them to unlock that sense of strategy within themselves.

This was incredibly rewarding, meaningful, … and fun! Every session was filled with laughter between often thoughtful conversations about purpose and strategy. Even though my role may have been a minor one, the sense of accomplishment that came with running this successful program was gratifying, and I hope to experience it in many future projects with OWLS.




Share this post

← Older Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.