Communication, ‘Freedom to Fail’ Help Move Chamber Teams Toward Creative Solutions

How do you foster a culture of innovation, creativity, and embracing change within your chamber?

Alicia Bermes
Beaverton Area (OR) Chamber

This is an interesting question for me as I have spent my chamber career taking over for CEOs that have spent a lifetime in the position. At the first position the CEO had been there 10 years; next one 14 years; most current one 20 years!

When this is the case, members/staff have become very used to “the way things have always been done.” That started to become my least favorite phrase. However, walking in and flipping the tables just doesn’t work. It takes some time to learn the current culture and for them to get to know you.

I spend some time meeting with key individuals and that doesn’t mean just the board, although they are important too.

Who is that ambassador, that volunteer, that member that everyone listens to? It’s time to get to know that individual; ask them what has been going right and what could use some improvement.

Then it’s time to look at trends; has membership been increasing or decreasing? In each case I walked into, membership was on the decline. Why is that? Maybe it IS time for some change.

Use those key influencers to help you to innovate and come up with creative ways to engage the membership that will foster growth and engagement. Sometimes these are ideas that you will come up with and use your influencers to support them.

Finally, the proof will be in the numbers. Is there increased growth and engagement? If so, you are on the right track!

Sherry Taylor
Mason Deerfield (OH) Chamber

I believe it starts with a culture of communication. We adopted the EOS [entrepreneurial operating system] model two years ago across our entire organization, and it provides regular avenues for the entire team to present issues, discuss as a team, and collaborate on a solution. This fosters a culture of trust which leads to a culture of innovation, creativity, and change.

We have quarterly pulses and quarterly team building to reward each other for progress being made toward our vision. Each team member even has a signature celebration move that when someone does something well and pushes us toward our future of change, we all do that signature move together.

May sound silly, but the little things like that really do keep the continued momentum and help to build trust. Imagine everyone “raising the roof” in 2023 at a team meeting! Great communication leads to great teams, which leads to the innovation, creativity, and change necessary for continued growth.

Bryan Starr
Greater Irvine (CA) Chamber

In my view, culture is everything for any organization. With an effective culture and strong, relevant community values, chambers can set the tone for their respective ecosystems.

For Greater Irvine, no idea is too big, too small, or too far out there. Our culture is freedom to fail. Without failure there is no success.

Our executive professional staff also encourages our team to reach beyond what they already know. We encourage our team to be lifelong learners by seeking opportunities for personal and professional growth even if it’s not directly related to their current role at the chamber.

We also strongly encourage our team to manage up.

Most important, our team members are encouraged to always seek out what’s next instead of getting stuck in what always has been.

This approach also translates to how we manage and develop our board. The open-mindedness and freedom to fail mentality has built a great deal of trust and unity to collectively accomplish our mission to advance the economic vitality of Greater Irvine.

Lori Mattson, IOM
Tri-City (WA) Regional Chamber

In a quest to deliver the highest quality events, resources, programs, publications, etc., we conduct staff-wide CTC meetings (Cross Team Collaboration). When a team member is creating something new, or making significant changes to a program, a publication, an event, etc., they call a CTC meeting with our entire team.

Prior to the meeting, they give everyone details and context of what they’re hoping to get from CTC, so the whole team can begin brainstorming or researching potential solutions.

At the meeting, we go around the table sharing our ideas and contributing input to other ideas. Ultimately, I believe that everyone feels like their opinions are valued and that all decisions aren’t made by only those in leadership or senior positions.

Robert Heidt
Glendale (AZ) Chamber

Fostering a culture of change at the Glendale Chamber begins with leadership and our attitude toward innovation and creativity. While even small changes may stir feelings of fear or dread, I believe being a champion of change or continuous development can embolden the team to face the world with a new perspective, to bring forth new ideas or best practices, and to see where opportunities for progress exist.

And while change may not always result in the desired benefit, the way in which we address the outcome has much to do with whether we extinguish or encourage and nurture perpetual improvement.