Every company wants to continuously improve, solve problems and stay relevant. Executing on innovation goals, however, is easier said than done. Building an innovation team is a great first step but you have to set them up for success. We have worked with a diverse range of customers in different industries and have found there are common characteristics among successful innovation teams. We want to share some of those discoveries in this blog.
What is an Innovation Team?
An innovation team is a group within the organization that is empowered to identify and solve problems, run experiments and pioneer new ideas and processes. These teams are silo breakers that reach across different areas of the organization to engage the people closest to the problems or opportunities they are exploring. They are information brokers that discover and connect different people in the organization passionate about exploring and solving the same challenges.
What Makes a Great Innovation Team
The most successful innovation teams we have worked with tend to share the following characteristics and skills:
Let’s explore each of these characteristics and skills in greater detail.
One of the most important characteristics of innovation is diversity; the inclusion of diverse backgrounds, experiences and skill sets. When approaching problems and new opportunities it is critical to limit assumptions with a beginner's mind. Diversity is helpful to promote creativity and fresh perspectives that challenge the status quo.
Members of your innovation team should be great communicators and able to build informal networks within the organization. As innovators are advocates of change, this is invaluable. To be successful, the innovation team must be successful at creating a sense of urgency and purpose. It must form coalitions within the organization to mitigate barriers to change.
The scientific method is invaluable to innovation. The willingness to test assumptions with the empirical approach. This is both a skill and a discipline. Successful innovation teams are skilled at identifying and prioritizing assumptions and hypotheses for testing. They are creative at designing and running experiments to provide the right data to prove or disprove assumptions and hypotheses during validation. They are skilled at manufacturing quick wins and aggregating those wins to gain support and promote real change.
To use the scientific method effectively, your innovation team should be familiar with design thinking. As Peter Drucker famously said, “The most common source of mistakes in management decisions is the emphasis on finding the right answer rather than the right question” Peter Drucker. In other words, don’t seek the right answers, seek the right questions. Design thinking helps create an intimate focus and understanding of the right customer or individual affected by a problem and a shared understanding of how to create value for that customer.
With empiricism comes the freedom to fail; or rather the freedom to learn. As alluded to earlier, the freedom to test assumptions and challenge the status quo. Your innovation team must have the confidence to push boundaries and explore ideas that might shake things up. This does not mean pursuing ideas with reckless abandon. There needs to be a process and discipline here. The more refined that process and discipline becomes the more skilled the innovation team becomes at testing assumptions and informing next steps.
Over ten years ago Marc Andreessen famously wrote that “software is eating the world.” This is more true today than ever. Your innovation team must be adept at the use of software, particularly the organization’s collaboration and communication tools. They must be good at troubleshooting and online research. The key here is resourcefulness; the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome barriers and problems. We’ve seen tremendous variance in the technological skills of the innovation teams we’ve worked with and the results are obvious. Our most successful customers have team members that are technically savvy and clever.
If you want your innovation team to have the agility and flexibility to get things done it needs to be supported with adequate time and resources to do so. If your innovation team is starved for resources and continuously hampered by red tape you can’t expect it to produce much. Innovation is not something that happens off the corner of someone’s desk. It is a discipline and a practice that needs to be developed carefully based on the circumstances of your organization. Our most successful customers have enabled their innovation teams with the support and resources to manufacture quick wins, consolidate those improvements and institutionalize the new approaches in the organization.
We’ve worked with a number of innovation teams that have had mixed results when it comes to innovation. One thing we’ve observed is that there are unmistakable common characteristics across successful innovation teams. By aggregating diverse individuals with the right skillset, facilitating open communication, and providing adequate resources and permission, you will be setting up your innovation team to contribute real value to your organization and transform it for the long term.
We've also observed an interesting phenomenon. Our customers that have built successful innovation teams tend to attract others with the right qualities to supplement the team. This further reinforces the quality of the team and contributes to greater success.
There is no better time to start building and empowering your innovation team. We'd love to talk to you about it.
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