I am not joking when I say that, pre-pandemic, the most common practice to provide support for innovation teams was to have a conversation over a cup of coffee. Checking in once every 2-3 months to ask how things are going certainly makes work fun. However, it is not a very scalable approach.
It is also very different from the support entrepreneurship teams get. Even in the very early stages, there are incubator and accelerator programs that provide start-up teams with training, office space where they can work in a stimulating environment, and feedback from experienced mentors. And, now during the pandemic, most of these programs have become virtual.
Your innovation teams need such support as much as these startups do. Perhaps even more, because in an existing organization the costs of failure are much higher than that of a startup.
Our research has shown that it often works counterproductive to take (part-time working) innovation teams out of their organizational context, especially if they work on offerings that have to be integrated back into the organization they came from. So, offering a physical space is rarely needed, and now during the pandemic, it is not very practical either.
Know what support to provide
To provide the best support, you need to know what your teams are doing, learning, and delivering.
However, how do you know what support to provide, if you check in with your teams only every so often? If you are in the dark about what your teams do, how will you know where they struggle with and what support they need when?
At the same time, if you would ask for weekly updates or daily check-ins, that would probably be perceived as intrusive and bureaucratic.
Reporting becomes even more challenging when innovation teams get funding from the business unit and not the innovation group. In that case, the teams have no accountability toward those who are responsible for facilitating the innovation teams. In this scenario, asking for updates is often purely based on goodwill and trust.
The wonders of our online world
This reporting problem is not easy to solve unless you take a radically different approach.
It may be insightful to know that we don’t ask our teams to report anything at all. We don’t have to.
We know what all the teams are doing, learning, and delivering, because our teams learn, collaborate, and move their innovation project forward on our online training platform, under the supervision of an experienced trainer.
We have found that it is the best solution for all parties involved. There is an incentive for the teams to work within the platform – because the training program provides structure, and our trainers provide feedback and help teams address the things they find difficult.
And as their trainer, I see what all my teams are doing, learning, and delivering. This means that I can proactively reach out when they need support. What more, during meetings, I don't have to ask a team what they have done. I can see that for myself. So, when we meet, we can focus our time on discussing what to do next.
McKinsey found that just 6% of companies are satisfied with their innovation results. That is unacceptable.
We realized that better insight and metrics were needed to support innovation teams.
Instead of asking innovation teams to tell us what they plan to do and have them report on their performance, we analyze what teams are doing, learning, and delivering. That way we can identify their strength and weaknesses and provide them the support they need.
And it is not just us who see a difference. Recent research found that a facilitator’s presence and involvement in the innovation teams was crucial in the pre-phase and first phase of the innovation process due to the very high complexity (source).
In addition, a systematic database search in which 208 relevant articles were identified and analyzed thematically way found that there are twenty innovation enablers related to innovation teams (source). Seventeen of these 20 are addressed as part of our T4 training program: awareness, capabilities, collaboration, dedication, education, empowerment, entre- / intrapreneurship, human resources, incentives, knowledge, knowledge management, management, mind-set, need, processes, strategy, and time. This review contributes to prior research a deeper understanding of what key factors enable innovative work for innovation teams.
Better results faster
Are your teams:
- Collecting data
- Listening to clients
- Stating their assumptions
- Putting in the work
- Working together as a team
- Testing assumptions
- Executing experiments
- Interpreting (unexpected) findings
- Iterating their way to awesomeness
- Producing high-quality work
- Meeting project milestones
- Creating tangible outcomes
- Generating results