Organizing for innovation

Part I: Getting results

From our research and experience, we know that too many innovation and improvement initiatives fizzle out because the team is unfocused and disorganized. Fewer than 20% of such projects deliver results!

By enabling innovation, digital transformation, new business development, and improvement teams to stay focused and organized, teams on the Steering Wheel platform move 3x faster, have an 80% chance of success, and deliver concrete outcomes within 6 months. We are running an Innovation Facilitator Master Program this January, so you can get similar results. However, I am diverting, as in this blog, I would like to give you a few tips that you could start using today, to increase the likelihood of success of your innovation teams.

Engagement is the key to get results

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that engagement is the trick. However, there seems to be a self-reinforcing cycle. If the team is on its path to success, keeping the team members engaged is easier. And if a team is engaged, there is a higher likelihood that they will be successful.

Clear expectations

To be clear, none of our teams work on their project full time. They always have other – and arguably more urgent – commitments. So, all team members need to make time to work on their innovation project. It is one of the things we make very clear from the start. An innovation project takes time. To be successful a team needs to put in a minimum of 5 hours a week as a team, to keep their project moving at full speed. If you don’t have the time, then don’t participate or don’t start the project until you have time. A simple rule like that makes expectations very clear. More importantly, it prevents teams from failing. Teams that put in fewer hours simply don’t stand a chance of being successful. Someone has got to do the work.

Clearly defined tasks

Then, to keep teams moving – give teams clear and concrete tasks to work on. If you demand that they spend 5 hours per week as a team on their innovation project, make it crystal clear what you want them to focus on! What should they work on? What should they figure out next?

Sometimes, we see teams stall, even when we give them clear directions on what to work on. Usually, that is a symptom that their project is too big, too high level, or too ill-defined. They have an ambitious vision for the future, but when you ask for anything concrete their project feels like an air mattress that goes flat at any point you press. If that is the case, there are a few things you can help such a team with:

  • Ask them to define a group/unit/practice/client/user who would be most receptive to their idea. Who in or outside the organization could be their “beachhead” and be willing to try it out first? Such a question forces the team to make it real.
  • Alternatively – or in really bad cases, in addition – ask them what part of their overall vision would they like to start with first. What part could they get started within the next 6 months? For which aspect would it be easiest to get traction?

What about the team itself?

The Harvard Business Review recently featured a very interesting paper about different types of innovators. Generators, Conceptualizers, Optimizers, and Implementers. To a certain extent, if you have issues like those described above, you probably don’t have the right mix of people. However, I never had the luxury of putting the ideal team together. I have always had to make do with the people on the team who had the time and were willing to do the work. If that is the case, you must help the team to overcome its weaknesses.

I will follow up in the next blog of this series with a few more tips on how to keep innovation teams engaged. In part 2, I will discuss why you should never tell teams what to do as an innovation facilitator.





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