Mid-Ohio Foodbank and Olentangy Local School District make ideas reality.

Mid-Ohio Foodbank and Olentangy Local School District make ideas reality.

Meetings at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank look a lot different these days.

No one's sitting at the head of the conference table. In fact, there is no table.

Attendees sit in chairs grouped in a circle. The new meeting style is designed to create equality among those in attendance.

It's part of a management strategy that lets employees know that leaders want their input, says Matt Habash, president and CEO of the Grove City-based organization that distributed 59.5 million pounds of food last year. "It's a way to really listen to their ideas and have honest conversations," he says.

Employees have ample opportunities to share ideas and ask questions, he adds. Throughout the organization, managers have hung posters with sticky notes on them encouraging employees to ask questions, offer ideas or leave comments that are later addressed in newsletters or staff meetings, Habash says.

Encouraging new ideas is a trait of many Top Workplaces in central Ohio. Fifty-six percent of those who participated in Columbus CEO's Top Workplace Survey report new ideas are encouraged by their employer. A similar number of employees indicate their workplace has "good inter-departmental cooperation."

Leadership at Mid-Ohio is urged to share ideas and best practices, Habash says. During leadership meetings, department heads are encouraged to bring problems they are struggling with so that others in attendance can offer suggestions. "There are cross-departmental conversations happening all the time," he says.

The social service agency recently spent about 18 months looking at its culture and values and developing what it calls "our way of being," Habash says. They've enacted a lot of changes designed to give employees a greater voice, he says. He views the organization as a "tree of life," and notes that it's necessary to "pay attention to the root system."

In the Olentangy Local School District, new ideas and interdepartmental cooperation contribute to learning opportunities, which Superintendent Mark Raiff considers important to the district's success. "In a learning organization, everyone is expected to learn and grow," he says.

He encourages his leaders to think about what they can do to help those who work for them to be successful. "I expect our leaders to serve the people they work with," says Raiff, who oversees the seventh largest school district in the state. "If you don't do that, you create top-down culture that doesn't foster the kind of growth we need from all of our stakeholders." The culture is anything but top-down on days such as Olentangy Orange High School's "Pour Grits on the Principal" contest.

But Raiff says that the district still has boundaries. "We don't say yes to everything, but I try to never say no to a good idea."

He also encourages his team to be responsive because it encourages employees to come to them with ideas or concerns, he says. When employees raise a concern, leaders need to take it seriously, he adds. "It doesn't matter what someone's problem is-only that it's (their supervisor's) current biggest problem to help solve."

>>Download the full 2016 Top Workplaces list