Teamwork and Innovation


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Not so long ago, Laura Camacho asked if I could write a blog post on teamwork and innovation.

Great idea! As I set forth on this, I decided to approach this with a set of my viewpoints on this topic. Here we go:

Types of people:

You need different kinds of people in order to get the diversity that brings out more than just ordinary innovation. Here I got to think of a great book I read years ago, The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tim Brown, IDEO.

You should also consider the three different phases of innovation; discovery, incubation and acceleration when you organize your team. You need different skills and mindset when you start out with the project than what you need when you take your innovation to market. Too often, I see that companies neglect this and assume that they can just go ahead with the same people throughout the entire process or they just make minor adjustment to the team structure. Big mistake!

Team-members also need to be aware of the concept of t-shaped people. In short, the T-shape is about having depth as well as breadth and about bringing real knowledge to the table while also having the empathy for the contribution of others. Check out this interview by Morten T. Hansen speaking with Tim Brown of IDEO: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture

Types of functions:

This builds further on the above. You need to include people performing different functions in your team and here I like a development that I have witnessed over the last couple of years. Companies seem to begin to understand that innovation needs to be about more than just R&D and technologies; it is also about processes and services and thus we are starting to see how different functions are being more involved in innovation activities much earlier than before.

On this topic, you can find some great inspiration in the work on ten types of innovation by the innovation consultancy, Doblin. Initially developed in 1998, the ten types of innovation showed that companies that integrate multiple types of innovation will develop offerings that are more difficult to copy and that generate higher returns.

Team rules:

I really like this approach on building high-performance teams:

“You need to build a team of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

This approach was the cornerstone of a good book, The Wisdom of Teams, written by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith.

Open innovation and social media:

Since open innovation and social media are my key activities, I would like to add a few notes on this.

One is that your innovation team should also master social media as this is becoming a key driver for better innovation. In this blog post 5 Functions for Open Innovation Meets Social Media Efforts, I mention that you need to build a team of researchers, communicators, networkers, speakers and digital natives on this intersection.

Although I mention five functions, I do not suggest that you should build teams with only five people. The key is functions, not people. You might have several people who can contribute on each function and you should try to create a team structure that allows for all of them to contribute.

Another thing to consider is that you need to develop your personal competencies for open innovation and as a leader, you need to understand what is needed for the open innovation efforts and organize your team around this. Gail Martino is an open innovation manager at Unilever and she shares some good insights on the topic here: 7 Critical Competencies for Open Innovation Success

Input from others:

I could add more on teamwork and innovation, but hopefully the above viewpoints can work as a discussion starter together with the responses I got to a LinkedIn update and a tweet asking what other people view as the key issues when it comes to teamwork and innovation. Here you get some of the many reflections I got on this:

Gail Severini:
“For me this breaks into: 1. Generating innovation (net new ideas or solutions to problems) where creativity and complex / integrative (ie. non-linear) thinking are key and 2. Implementing innovation where trust, synergy and a shared approach to transformational change are key I am subscribed to your blog and will be interested to see where you land.”

Jesper Outzen:
“The definition on innovation. The younger generation vs the older generation”

Sharon M. McIntyre:
“Making sure some of the work is done outside of “team time” so individual ideas and associations … as well as processing time …. is part of the process.”

Babak Forutanpour:
“Patience – innovators see things the rest of the company first sees as a distraction.”

Kevin Paylow:
“Issues that come to mind: 1) identifying the skills, behaviors, social networks needed on the team 2) recruiting the team 3) onboarding the team – communicating goals and constraints, setting expectations, collaboratively determining team norms 4) engaging the team 5) making the team members more marketable for their careers after the project”

Lee Griffiths:
“Not invented here syndrome. Really damages teamworking when one part of the business won’t take ideas, solutions or suggestions comming from another team.”

Team diversity, problem structure, i.e. specialized vs. cross-functional, brainstorming vs. nominal setting

teamwork & innovation issues can include managing/encouraging/enhancing diversity & inclusiveness and the dangers of groupthink

humility, comaraderie, persistence, courage, dogged determination

build a team of smart, creative people who do not need to constantly compete with each other. Ego kills the whole thing

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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