Mastering Innovation In the Enterprise: Successful (And Unsuccessful) Innovation Program Teams

Mastering Innovation In the Enterprise: Successful (And Unsuccessful) Innovation Program Teams

All forward-thinking companies are focused on innovation – at least in theory. In practice, many companies may think they’re working on innovation when all they’re actually doing is circling the drain. Because innovation appears to be such a mystical process, companies lose sight of any process – waiting and hoping for a lucky break, without any real strategy. Which is exactly why they fail.

Successful innovation isn’t something that just happens. It’s pursued, intentionally, with great focus, by the right people making the right decisions based on any number of variables along the way. And this is exactly what this series of posts will be addressing – and helping you work through.

Characteristics Of A Successful Innovation Team

What’s sometimes misunderstood about innovation teams is they’re not there to do all the work to the exclusion of everyone else. They’re more like facilitators, bringing other departments together to create new products and services with their guidance.

And this means they need to possess a variety of skills to be effective.

A strong leader is a must. You want someone with a broad range of experience, who can “sell” the program and specific challenges internally (which isn’t always easy); a self-starter able to navigate various personalities. But the rest of the team needs to be just as strong.

Renegade personality. Innovation is a weird squishy thing – it’s not a textbook industry like finance or accounting. Innovation people have to be renegades, able to blaze their own path by being creative, scrappy, and aggressive, yet diplomatic.

Along with these ideal personalities are four roles to fill for a killer innovation team:

  • Doers – who take direction and run with whatever they’re asked to do
  • Challengers – who play devil’s advocate and look for the flaws others miss
  • Helpers – who manage social interactions and relationships
  • Creators – who offer ideas with abandon; it’s others’ jobs to assess and vet their potential

With these folks filling out your innovation team, you’ll be set up well for sourcing successful challenges.

Six Personality Traits To Watch Out For

Just as important as traits that make an innovation team successful, are those that will make an innovation team unsuccessful. Watch out for these types when you’re building your team:

  • Egomaniac – It’s hard to convince someone who’s “always right” that changes need to be made, and change management is a huge part of the job.
  • Easily Intimidated – These are followers, and you need leaders.
  • Always Overwhelmed – They’ll need a lot of hand-holding and you will not have time for that. Self-efficient folks only, please.
  • Untrusting – They need to be able to build trust and that’s not possible if they aren’t trusting themselves. And it will also hold them back when it comes to taking risks.
  • Uninterested – You can’t make them care and shouldn’t bother trying. If innovation doesn’t excite them, they do not belong on your lean mean innovation team.
  • Narcissists – They don’t know or care about anything outside of themselves and this will be no different. Weed them out by asking about their current team and speaking to team success.

Sorting out WHO will be on your team isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the wait to find the right people. Once you find them, you’re guaranteed some measure of success, right? Well, we’re not there yet.

Beyond team make-up, you must have the following criteria in mind (in tandem) or you’ll be dooming your rockstar team to failure:

Full-time commitment. Not every person on the (dedicated) team must be a full-time member, but if everyone on the team can only devote a fraction of their time to innovation efforts, you’ll never gain traction, so at least one person should be full-time and dedicated to innovation, if at all possible.

Executive sponsorship. There needs to be at least one executive sponsor – someone working at a level above your leader, devoting partial time to your overarching innovation efforts.

Connection with C-level. At least one member (preferably more) of your innovation team needs to be well connected to company leaders. They should be very familiar with the company’s mission, strategy, political workings and how to leverage people and processes within the organization to get results. Someone six levels down from the C-suite won’t have that capacity and support will be diluted.

So where do you pull these internal folks from? All levels of your organization, particularly those “high potential” folks consistently working beyond their pay grade and seeking ways to expand their role and their skillset. You know who I’m talking about – finally a way to constructively use those yearly reviews!

Watch for our next post this coming Thursday on specific criteria to evaluate existing innovation programs. And reach out with questions about creating an innovation team that will revolutionize your organization!

In the meantime, check out what innovation program leaders from General Electric, PwC, and SAP share in our recently recorded Google Hangout Innovation Programs: The Predictors of Success.