When managing any innovation project, organizing your team is one of the most important challenges you will face. No matter if you found a startup or drive innovation in an enterprise environment, it is always about orchestrating the talent of your team members in order to generate growth. The perfect organization of any innovation team is lean and simple. It does not block progress but unleashes productivity. Innovation never loves being constrained by too many rules. There are so many ways to organize your team, from controlling to participating, from autocracy to anarchy, from hierarchy to holacracy. This article aims to provide you with some key questions to raise in the process of developing your ideal form of organization. Answer the following 7 questions to shape an effective innovation team.
1) What is our ‘why’ and what is our ‘how’?
For an innovation team it is essential to share a vision. Without this common idea of a better future, there is a lack of orientation. In innovation we have to run many tests, we experiment with our ideas, and we pivot regularly. Oftentimes we spend days or weeks in creating something only to trash it in the end. This can be very discouraging if you do not know why you are doing what you do.
Based on the foundation of a shared vision, core values that are openly discussed will boost the productivity of every team. Just imagine a situation where you share a coworking space with a potential competitor. Imagine your teams sit together every day, share lunch from time to time, and of course, you are also exchanging information about your businesses. How do you act in terms of transparency in this situation? Does your team share knowledge or do you hide? Do you proactively help your competitor or do you only try to grab the best of their ideas? In this case, having defined a team value (e.g., ‘transparency and borderless collaboration’) will help your team to have a common understanding of how to act in complex situations.
2) Who owns the decision-making process?
Unclear decision-making processes are frustrating. You have an idea and it gets lost as nobody decides to realize it. You give your best for a whole day and in the evening, your team lead trashes all of your work. You are running a small innovation project and suddenly it turns out that you missed an opportunity to ask for feedback from some core decision-makers.
In an innovation team, it is important to have clear decision-rules that run fast. You want to decide within minutes, not in days. Speed in execution is essential for innovation. The team wants to know who to ask for what. Decisions have to be consistent. Ultimately, your team wants to be involved and take some ownership of the decisions. Nobody likes to be bossed, especially the ones with an entrepreneurial spirit. If you want to run a truly effective innovation team, a transparent and participative decision-making process is inevitable.
3) What are the domains each team member owns?
Have you ever worked in a team where the manager decided on every single detail of your work? You had to get approval for irrelevant things and were not able to decide on your own? If yes, you will know that this kills your motivation and your productivity. On the other hand, a team where nobody is ‘the boss’ soon gets out of control. Things are done duplicate, you decide again and again on the same things, and in times of failure nobody feels responsible.
Giving people ownership of their domains will change everything. Let them decide and suddenly they are involved. This will not only help to raise motivation but also to speed up decisions. At the same time, somebody is finally responsible. You can set goals, clear expectations, and you know who to talk to, if things go wrong.
4) How do we structure our meetings?
Who does not know these regular boring get-togethers where you achieve almost nothing. What a waste of time! We tend to set up too many meetings that are too long and involve too many people. In the end, most of the time is wasted in discussions that are not related to the original purpose of this meeting.
There are simple rules that will help to boost your meeting productivity. Keep meetings small, set a clear structure that focuses on decision-making, and have a facilitator who restrains irrelevant speeches. Try to always leave a meeting with a clear outcome, e.g., an action plan or a decision protocol.
5) How to give feedback?
Everybody loves to work in a harmonious team but at some point, differing viewpoints will arise. Oftentimes teams neglect to utilize the power of dissonance. In discussions and feedback situations, we focus on the good things and avoid speaking out on the bad ones. Over time, this will intoxicate our team. There will be a growing number of things that are left under the table. Furthermore, situations of conflict hold a massive power for innovation. If we always agree, we will never invite something new. Only in disagreement and developing tradeoffs will we find new solutions. A formalized feedback process can prove a great asset to your team. Give feedback and ask for it. Encourage people to give negative feedback in a setting where they can feel safe.
6) What boosts our motivation?
Being motivated as a team is not only a question of bringing the right people together, not only of talent or skills. It is also a question of how we organize our work. Much too often we formulize vague projects with unspecified tasks. Procrastination evolves, projects seem to get stuck, and in the end we are demotivated. With some simple mechanisms, we can create motivation boosters: break down projects into actionable tasks and somehow visualize progress (e.g., with Kanban). If we constantly see progress, every small task that is executed transforms into a small win.
Also, the atmosphere in which we work will transform. We feel that we are achieving something. This creates the breeding ground for a motivating environment that fosters innovation.
7) How do we manage ideas?
If you set the right atmosphere and encourage people to express their ideas, you also have to ensure that these ideas are valued. Too often we conduct brainstorming meetings and create a bunch of great ideas, just to see them fade away, written down on some piece of paper that is lost in your drawer. Idea management includes not only the idea generation process but also the mechanisms to evaluate, test, and realize those sparks of innovation. Tools like a Post-it wall or a Trello board can do magic.