Innovation Teams – what you need to know

By Eric van Niekerk, Research Lead, Innocentrix

Successful innovation does not only require a strong leader, it requires a strong team. Often various teams are working on different lifecycles of the potential innovation. This spans from gathering additional insights and research, building business cases and experimenting, through to piloting and implementation.

The innovation team is possibly the most important element to get right, but often can represent the greatest challenge to an ambidextrous organisation. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.

The goal of an innovation team

Your team of innovators are there to realise your organisation’s innovation aspirations. Even though this sounds obvious, it is important to keep in mind that teams are the embodiment of your innovation capability that will eventually represent your organisation. Far too often innovation teams are put together based on convenience. Merely grabbing available individuals without providing the required context, dynamics, training or tools will set you up for failure. Indeed, 70% of innovation teams fail, according to Joyce Wycoff, due to mismanagement of these teams.

For this reason, it is important to keep the following points in mind.

Create an organisationally diverse team

Innovation is often considered to be ‘thinking outside of the box’, but that alone is not a true representation of organisational innovation. Creating an innovation team that comprises of individuals who think outside of the box will probably result in a plethora of creative ideas. However, it might not send the organisation in the right strategic direction, while other important implementation activities might get left behind. Rather, aim to create a team that expands the borders of the box; a team that represents several facets of your organisation. In doing this, you will have a group that understands the organisation’s structure and culture, and can easily relate to, and identify, problems.

These teams also need to be amended per project and it is a good idea to mix them up with both insiders and outsiders. Insiders will provide insights while taking responsibility for organisational related tasks, and selected outsiders will bring fresh perspectives and work on the more disruptive side of the innovation spectrum. This allows for a broader approach in finding innovative solutions that match an organisation’s unique positioning and strengths.

For innovation to go full circle, ideas need to get implemented. So, a diverse team that consists of ideators, administrators and implementers is what will make the difference.

What about social network analytics?

Diverse teams are not randomly created and thrown together in a room. In fact, what your team knows is only half of the story. It’s who your team knows that will help them go from good to inspiring and effective. Being able to source ideas from all corners of an organisation will provide a wider range of options and insights. Knowing who needs solutions to organisational problems, and who possibly can contribute towards solutions, will aid your team in identifying powerful idea contributors quickly and easily. InnovationManagement.se has an informative infographic on how to practically identify social individuals and consider the dynamics of social networks.

Creating the creative team

A research report from INSEAD on creating innovative teams emphasises the importance of assessing how individuals communicate with others in the team. Certain types of individuals have the capacity to unlock creativity, and by assessing individual interactions, and identifying those who stimulate the most creative and innovative discussions amongst their peers, better results can be achieved. Ultimately, a team should consist of:

  • A leader who will maintain excellence
  • A creator who comes up with innovative ideas
  • A stimulator who provokes creative thinking
  • A master who fills the gap between inspiration and application
  • A course-keeper who institutionalises the innovation process
  • A persuader who can get buy-in for ideas

With this type of configuration, a well-rounded and creatively engaging innovation team can be created. Keeping your team lean will speed up the innovation processes, achieving results with more speed and accuracy.

Don’t lose track

An innovation team should function as a cohesive unit, taking charge of innovation action within an organisation. This though does not imply that the team has to be exclusively internal to the organisation. The team should be able to make good use of an organisation’s business ecosystem, working closely with customers, partners and peers. In doing so, the innovation team can source ideas and creative inputs from the widest range possible. Involving external contributors and engaging in Open Innovation strategies will assist your team to stay on the cutting edge, always aware of new developments and ideas.

Finally, creating a solid measurement and evaluation framework by which the team can evaluate their own performance is key to success. As always, this needs to be aligned with the organisation’s strategic goals and objectives in order to drive the desired results and outcomes.