Getting startedLearning and experimenting

Building your team

How do you go about building your team for your innovation project? What kind of people should you ask to join you when you start out? The answer is simple, look for people who share your passion for the topic or problem. That should be the most important criteria. First, because at the start, you don’t know yet which skill sets you will need down the road. Second, it is already difficult enough to find team members. So don’t be too picky, except when it comes to passion.

Looking for a knight on a white horse

When looking for team members, I noticed that many are looking for a knight on a white horse. People who will enthusiastically work with them on the project, bring a complementary skill set, agree on the general approach, can move mountains, and who won’t take all the credit for the project’s success.

Knight on a white horse

In reality, finding just any team member is already really difficult. Thus, from a practical perspective, you will have to compromise, to get your project off the ground.

Passion matters

It may help to know that knowledge, skills, and passion are equally important for success and that not every team member needs to have all of these attributes (source: Harvard Business Review).

Therefore, I recommend starting with looking for people with a passion for the topic or problem. Knowledge and expertise you can develop, passion is difficult to create.

That being said, later on, during the development phase, skills and capabilities start to matter. Especially when you need a specific skill set to build the concept and bring the solution to market. However, by that time, it is often easier to find and recruit highly skilled talent, because you will have the funds to pay for such expertise.

The Team To Build

It may also help to know that innovation teams are not static entities. Traditionally, we think about teams as internally focussed on solving a problem, with a fixed set of team members that all contribute equally. This approach to teams does not work for innovation teams, because your team has to operate in a dynamic environment,  an environment where things can and will change.

Traditional teams (see illustration below) are not well suited to operate in such a context. They are too static and internally focused. Instead, you need a team that emphasizes outreach and that can adapt easily to the changing demands of each phase of the innovation process.

x teams vs traditional teams

At the courtesy of Sloan Management Review

Flexible teams, suited to operate in dynamic environments, are also referred to as X-teams. X-teams are:

  • Focused on a combination of internal and external activities
  • Have extensive ties in and outside the organization
  • Have a strong mechanism for communicating and managing the tasks at hand
  • Operate as a multi-tier team, with flexible membership between the tiers

Keep your team dynamic

When starting out recruiting team members, it will be helpful to realize that not all team members need to be committed equally. In software development teams, there is a fable about chicken and pigs. A pig and a chicken wanted to create a dish made of ham or bacon and eggs. The pig would provide the ham or bacon which requires his or her sacrifice and the chicken would provide the eggs which are not difficult to produce. Thus the pig is really committed in that dish while the chicken is only involved, yet both are needed to produce the dish.

Multi-tier membership means that different team members take on specific tasks and roles depending on the phase of the project. In practical terms, this means that not everyone is expected to put in the same number of hours or effort. Not everyone needs to work on all things together, and not everyone must be engaged from start to finish in the project. That will give you some flexibility when building your team.

You should not expect team members to stay on from start to finish. They may, but it is not a must. And you have to expect that you will recruit new team members later on, for example when you are missing a critical skill-set on your team. So building your team is an ongoing activity, it is not done after you have found the first team member(s).

Building your team

So, when inviting team members at the start of your project, look for passion and then ask them to commit to a specific contribution in terms of hours or a specific task. When passionate about the topic and or problem, your new team members will be up for the challenge and learn-on-the-job to do whatever is needed.

For the teams in our accelerator program, organizing a brown-bag lunch meeting on the topic has proven to be a great way to find passionate teammates.

Success!