5 Ways to Lead Your Team Members Outside Their Comfort Zone at Work


This article was originally published on Huffingtonpost.com.

Want to make a big impression on your new boss? Been waiting for a salary bump or a promotion to drop into your lap but just can’t figure out how to make that happen?

Maybe it’s time to shake things up. Doing the same thing every day might give you a sense of being in control, but it can also make you complacent. And employees who do the bare minimum go nowhere fast — if ever.

Sticking to old habits and routines stunts your personal and professional growth. Getting outside your comfort zone by taking on unfamiliar tasks and responsibilities is an essential characteristic of those who stay competitive in any field.

It’s a scientific fact: The more you step outside of your comfort zone, the easier it becomes to do so. Accepting challenges that stretch your abilities to their limit can actually produce an optimal amount of anxiety, helping you rise to the occasion and achieve things you never knew you could.

Navigating Company Culture

Your company culture (i.e., the core values, attitudes, and beliefs of the business you work for) will definitely influence your tendency to step outside of your comfort zone. So if your employer doesn’t value on-the-job learning and isn’t open to new ideas from staff members, it will certainly make things harder but not impossible.

One of my company’s core values, for example, is “Always Get Better.” This maxim encourages everyone to embrace continuous learning and take chances. Our team members actively seek out innovative solutions and don’t quit or shy away when a project fizzles out. When failure arrives, we acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.

Once you’ve found a workplace atmosphere that encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, the following practices can help you push yourself toward greatness:

1. Compete for the “most innovative” award.

See what kinds of incentives your company uses to encourage employees to go over and above. Then, focus on winning those by branching out into unfamiliar territory to find solutions for unresolved problems or to improve workflows. Changes that clearly cut costs or grow revenue are usually the most well received.

For company leaders, the key is to let innovation happen by setting the expectation, cheering your team on, and getting out of the way. Zappos lets its employees award cash bonuses to peers who have gone beyond the call of duty, and Samsung promotes innovation by rewarding employees who’ve registered a patent for the corporation.

At my company, we recently launched our “Innovator of the Month” to recognize the person who has made a contribution through innovation to the business and to bring awareness and recognition to that effort.

2. Don’t dwell on failure — learn from it.

Pushing the envelope by developing and sharing big ideas is risky, as it opens you up to potential failure. Just keep in mind that failure always presents an opportunity to learn and brings you that much closer to success.

In a culture that doesn’t tolerate calculated risk, managers have a hard time getting people to push their own limits and try new things. One company’s no-failure philosophy even led directly to cheating, fraud, and a federal criminal investigation.

Instead, failure should be recognized as a learning opportunity. My team knows it’s OK to fail when pushing the limits as long as people understand the potential consequences. The most important part of failure is discussing and learning from it openly and objectively so we can all learn. The founder of Dell cites risk-taking as the main reason his company found success. Intuit even has an annual ceremony to bestow the “Failure Award” to the team whose failed idea produced the most insight.

3. Display vulnerability.

Don’t be afraid to open up and be yourself. Showing vulnerability allows trust to develop and helps people feel more comfortable taking risks and pushing themselves. To encourage this, one of our leadership development programs includes a lifeline exercise in which participants document the ups and downs of their lives on a graph and then talk through the different points with their peers.

To build respect and create more intimacy, leaders can lead this exercise by going first and being the example. Even doing this in short one-on-one meetings can lead to more authentic connections, foster understanding, and instill the confidence people need to bust out of their comfort zone.

Each Friday, I send a thought-provoking email to my team. I usually write about a motivational topic, but the content always has a personal touch, such as a personal experience, a quote I read, or a challenging moment at home. Not every message will have the same impact on everyone, but each will hopefully affect people in some way.

4. Catch and share the travel bug.

Through travel, you can gain new perspective, turn off autopilot, and appreciate diverse cultures. And it shouldn’t be limited just to leaders of a company — team members need to experience the benefits of travel as well.

Go on a road trip, fly the friendly skies, or ride the rails — and encourage colleagues to go on trips, too! There is something to be said for physically getting out of your comfort zone through travel and the impact it has on your perspective.

This is why Buffer gives employees $1,000 to go on vacation, and FullContact provides teammates with $7,500 to unplug from the rat race. Moreover, while one employee recharges and soaks up new ideas, those back at the office get a chance to think on their feet while they cover tasks normally performed by the out-of-office person.

5. Embrace team building.

Although they may seem trite, team-building exercises that push mental and physical limits really do strengthen you professionally. Team members gain confidence with encouragement from peers, and these experiences reinforce a culture of risk-taking. One interesting side note: Employees who have opted out of these activities at our company in the past have had much higher turnover. If they can’t push their limits in a safe, team-building environment, it’s likely that our growth-oriented culture won’t be a fit in the long run.

Capital One is a good example of a company that mentally and physically challenges its employees through team-building activities. From sinking-ship simulations to learning how to be horse whisperers, employees who are directly asked to think outside of their cubicles and spreadsheets are more engaged and ready to meet any business challenge.

By embracing the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, you can get things done you never dreamed possible and drive innovation. In today’s business world, things change too quickly to have the luxury of doing the exact same thing for five years and hope to have success.

Rather than stick to a status quo that isn’t getting you where you want to be, try a new approach or way of doing things. And don’t be afraid to fail — the more you learn from it, the better off you’ll be in the long run.