Innovation & Trends

10 tips for successful innovation teams

Imagine that you've been given the assignment of creating a new innovation team. It's your job to create a team that's able to come up with a new lucrative business idea and run it from concept to launch. This is a big task. To locate developmental areas outside the core business is difficult, especially in a company that's been making the same products for decades and which generally does not want to risk anything.

In return you have been given funds and freedom to select your dream team.

So where to start?

 Carl Fudge and Joaquin Roca offers 10 tips.

1. Start by making the “box” bigger instead of trying to think outside it

The first thing you need to do is to choose the right people for your team. The best way of doing this is by making sure that your team members are capable of running every phase of the project.

An innovation project typically consists of three phases: The creative, the analytical and the development phase. With this in mind it becomes clear that it is not enough to bring along people who are capable of “thinking outside the box”. A far better strategy is to create a bigger box: Choose team members team with different competences, networks and personalities.

2. Choose your team based on WHAT they know and WHO they know

Every innovation team should have members with good networks, so they're able to quickly come up with the answer to a question or provide the resources that can help the team move forward with the process. Access to an effective network provides a wider knowledge base to support the team.

Therefore, claims the two authors, the quality of the team members’ network should be a heavy selection criteria.

You can read further on the importance of the team’s network and their ability to move “outside” the team here.

3. Pick one executive and give him or her the freedom to lead

Experiments with management duos or even trios have not been successful. A single leader is, as opposed to a team, able to claim full ownership of the vision and make the final decisions. This keeps the process going and makes it faster. In an innovational process it is often better to push the process forward, even with incomplete information, than it is to slow it down while waiting for data.

However, it's interesting that even though one singular leader is important, it should still be possible for other team members to take on the managing position, when they possess the relevant expertise in the specific subject.

4. Create a team that can find – and fill out - gaps in the market

It isn't all about getting good ideas. For an innovative product to become a success there must be people who are willing to pay for it. For identifying such needs Fudge and Roca recommends an ethnographer. An ethnographer observes consumer behavior and tries to gain knowledge on non-satisfied needs. Needs that typically mean innovational possibilities.

An ethnographer’s work of interviewing, observing and identifying consumer needs brings the needs of the consumers to the forefront and becomes what the project grows from.

5. Use people who tell good stories

The ability to talk about the new business idea is almost as important as the quality of the idea itself. Whether you present the idea to your boss, colleagues or a potential investor it's critical that they understand the concept and share your enthusiasm for the idea. A storyteller can help you with this.

Storytellers can describe problems and solutions in a way that also creates fascination and animates action. Involvement and action is what you need in order for the team’s project to go from idea to complete product.

6. Understand the difference between good and bad conflict

A conflict isn't just a conflict. In an innovative team it is important that the right type of conflict is allowed or you risk missing out on your team member’s full potential and the payoff a good (constructive) discussion is able to produce.

In order to achieve a constructive debate, you must focus on the task at hand and not the person. A constructive dialog makes it possible for team members to challenge each other’s assumptions and hypotheses to reach a better solution.

But remember that also this kind of debate is harmfull, if you're constantly challenging other people’s views. This leads to personal conflict and must be stopped as soon as possible. Constructive conflicts, however, you should encourage.

7. Ad an external provocateur

Sometimes it may benefit the team, regardless of how good a team you have, to send in an outsider. She/he can bring in new information and inspire the organization to consider new and brave ideas. The person can also serve as an “irritant” – not because she/he has to be irritating – but personality and experience must somehow contrast the team's, in at way that the mere presence of this “provocateur” gives the team with an energy boost.

8. Remember to set goals and measure progress

There are three things that are important in relation to the innovation team’s goal:

  1. Arrange a shared vision for what the team wants to achieve. If the team is part of creating the goal conflicts will lessen and you will experience a higher level of involvement and responsibility.

  2. Return to the goals frequently. This acts as a confirmation of your common purpose.

  3. Don't list financial goals. Instead, ask a question to which you want to know the answer to. For example: Does this idea work or doesn't it? To figure out what doesn't work is also a way of measuring progress.

9. Think like an entrepreneur

Among entrepreneurs you will find a particular high level of motivation and focus. To recreate this in your team, you must nurse an entrepreneur like mindset. sometimes you can do this by turning up the motivational factors such as reward and risk. If this isn't possible, Fudge and Roca recommend that you ask your team members to sign an “entrepreneurial contract” where they commit to the project and/or the company.

10. Jump in heads first

For a team to succeed your team members must have the possibility of giving the project their full attention. If they're distracted by other assignments, it's difficult to focus whole-heartedly and the risk of defeat increases.

When a company tries to find new ways of growing, there's a place for innovative teams. Companies which spend time putting together, managing and motivating the team in the beginning of a project have a better chance of success than those that just “do the usual”.