The Art of Building Innovation Teams in Your Business
Every company wants to be innovative, but this is rarely accomplished without knowing how to build innovation teams and set them up for success effectively.
An innovation team is formed to pioneer something new for the company, whether that’s a product, process, or improvement. Team members are chosen for their knowledge and skillsets and given the freedom to brainstorm and execute new ideas.
The first step in building an innovation team is to decide what it is you’re trying to accomplish. This might be very general, like improving processes or saving money, or more specific, like developing a product to solve a defined problem. Either way, remember—innovation is the name of the game, so it’s important that the team has the freedom to be creative and push boundaries.
Measure Success With Metrics
How will you know whether your innovation team is successful? Innovation teams can have a lot of freedom, but it’s still important for everyone to understand what they’re working toward. There should be criteria for success, even if they’re loosely defined to allow room for creativity. Depending on your goals, you might want to track metrics such as:
- The number of ideas proposed
- The number of ideas implemented
- Revenue generated or cost savings from implemented ideas
Metrics, even simple ones like these, help quantify whether you’re on the right path or you need to change your approach.
Give Your Innovation Team the Freedom to Fail
they should allow for failure. An innovation team needs to be able to take risks and try out ideas that might not work. And some of those ideas won’t work. Some things are just fails, like spray-on hair for bald people or the Pontiac Aztek. Just make sure your team understands this and isn’t afraid to fail.
Recruit the Team
When you’re building innovation teams, you want the best minds you can get. Anyone in any role with something to contribute to idea development can be a candidate. Innovation teams often come from functions like marketing, engineering, product design, and strategy, but including other roles can have its benefits. Someone from sales or customer support, for example, can bring a customer-centric perspective to the innovation team and help identify whether an idea fits your customers’ needs and trends.
Innovation team members should have industry knowledge and technical skills, but it’s just as important to find people with a knack for creativity and a passion for their work. The independent nature of innovation requires motivation to not only come up with ideas but execute them. Look for the people who take initiative, challenge the status quo, and aren’t shy about sharing their ideas.
Key Roles on an Innovation Team
Beyond that, there are a few specific roles that any innovation team should have if possible. These include:
- The point man has founded a company or startup before and brings the necessary drive and mindset. This is the person in charge of divvying up resources. When an innovation program gets off the ground, teams will often compete for the same resources. The point man engages with important stakeholders and lobbies for the program.
- A networker knows all the right people and can make bottlenecks or obstacles disappear with a call. The networker creates dynamic campaigns around the brand, from social media to volunteer outreach.
- The operations guru builds a movement of employees eager to foster innovation in your organization. As a program grows in size, there will undoubtedly be some speedbumps or hurtles. The operations guru is the oil in the gears keeping the whole ship running in the form of organizing a demo day, meetings, or coordinating coaches.
- The scout leader brings new insights into the organization by relating to innovators or startups outside the company. The scout leader is usually the first one to spot new opportunities and is eager to present them to the team.
Your team may have some or all of these roles, depending on your innovation goals. You may want to rotate individuals through different roles to keep idea generation fresh.
Building Innovation Teams That are Diverse
The most successful innovation teams have members from a variety of functions, skill sets, and backgrounds. Having different perspectives and problem-solving approaches on the team helps break out of conventional ways of thinking to come up with new ideas.
Cross-functionality gives innovation teams a holistic view of the organization. They should also be made up of different mindsets. For example, newer hires can bring a fresh perspective that helps them see opportunities for improvement that long-timers might not notice. On the other hand, the organization's veterans have valuable experience that can be applied in new ways to generate ideas. By including both types on the team, they complement each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses.
Provide a Time and Place for Innovation
Innovation takes considerable time and effort. You shouldn’t expect an innovation team to generate and execute great ideas in their downtime while still working 40 hours a week in their normal role. To give them the best chance of success, you need to give your team ample time and space dedicated to innovation activities and free from the distractions of other responsibilities.
Set Aside Time to Generate Ideas
Innovation teams may be assembled from employees with other primary responsibilities, but it’s essential to treat innovation as part of their job. That means giving them the time to conduct innovation team activities like brainstorming, team discussions, and managing projects. You may need to reduce your team members’ workloads to ensure they have the time and mental energy to generate and execute great ideas.
The key is to find a balance between innovation and productivity. You can rotate team members so the loss of productivity has less of an impact. The most important thing is to give this time to the most motivated employees who you can trust to make good use of it.
Create an Innovation-Friendly Environment
When you put people in a new space, it changes how they think. Ideally, an innovation team should have a dedicated work environment. The same old conference rooms and workstations used for everyday work will only accommodate the same old, everyday ways of thinking.
A new, unfamiliar space, like a co-working building, a temporary office, a park, or even the pub, are great places to spark ideas and innovation. Well, maybe that last one is a stretch, but who knows what could happen! This takes employees out of their comfort zone (except the pub) and can inspire fresh perspectives. Plus, providing a new space like this demonstrates the company’s commitment to the innovation process.
Building Innovation Teams With rready
When you’re building an innovation team, you’re making a powerful investment in both your personnel and the future of your business. Set your team up for maximum success by pairing the strategies above with an innovation management program.
Our KICKBOX program offers a proven end-to-end solution for employee engagement, idea management, and idea execution, so you get the most out of your innovation initiative. With KICKBOX, you can collect, test, and execute ideas quickly using the online idea management platform, exchange knowledge on the innovation ecosystem, and inspire your employees with customized toolboxes that make innovation tangible and fun.