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Building the Winning Team for Innovation 

Building an innovation team

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Building an innovation team is so easy to get wrong and it is something that is so important to get right. Once you have the innovation strategy in place, you need a team to help you deliver this. These may be full-time or part-time roles but, regardless, these people are your foot soldiers that will help grow the strategy and help spread the word of innovation across the organization. 

I have 3 focus areas that will help you build the winning team for innovation. 

Area 1: Take some time to know your people

A common mistake is to focus on the positions that the team members occupy within your organization, not the characteristics. An example may be to bring a CTO in due to their knowledge of the IT infrastructure or a Managing Director because they have an overall say within a business. I agree it is vital to have the buy-in of these people, but they shouldn’t be your only priority. It would help if you focused on personalities and motivations more than role titles. 

The easiest thing to do is scout out those in positions of authority within your business. Don’t do this. Be patient. Take your time and get to know the people within your organization, either via digital, traditional, or face-to-face means, then you can build your innovation team. 


Area 2: Focus on characters when building an innovation team

This brings me on to my first recommendation – identify and recruit the right characters, not the right roles. A great book by Malcom Gladwell called ‘The Tipping Point’ covers this perfectly and it is something I tend to follow when building teams. In his book he talks about how to make messages ‘go viral’ by identifying the right people to help you do this. There are 3 types of people he recommends you need to seek out: 

  • Connectors – those people that seem to know everyone and everything that is going on in an organization. These people, if brought into your strategy, will be the ones that help it spread much further. 
  • Salesmen – these are the people that can sell rattlesnake boots to a rattlesnake. They get the strategy; they know its benefits and they can get others involved through their passion and ability to sell an idea. 
  • Mavens – these are your experts. These are the people that know the strategy in detail and can explain its benefits to the nth degree. You need a sprinkling of these in your team so that your strategy is grounded in facts and expertise. 

These people can occupy many roles within your organization and are vital for you achieving the right blend to help your message spread far and wide. 


Area 3: Target the engine room

That said, the strategy won’t get far if the organization’s culture won’t let it and this brings me to my third point. Target those people in influential positions that will kill your strategy dead and bring them on board. 

Where I have seen this in the past is middle management – the engine room of the organization. These are the people that get pressure from the top and pressure from below and are too busy to take anything else on board. They are often people you may describe as connectors, so if they are saying ‘no’ then the rest of the business will start to say no too.  

Target these people when building an innovation team and take time to be vulnerable; sit down with them, say you need their help and let them input into the strategy. Give them a place in the work you are doing, and you will see them come on board and begin to champion your work. 


Final Word: Building an innovation team with diversity in all its forms

The final point I’d like to make regarding building an innovation team is around diversity in all of its forms. This doesn’t just mean race or gender, it means diversity of personality, diversity of thought, diversity of education, diversity of upbringing, and diversity of roles.  

You should spend time understanding the breadth and depth of the personalities within your business and reflect this in your innovation team. I could go into detail regarding the power of diverse teams, but I’d recommend the book ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed. He makes an incredibly powerful case around why you need to step out of your comfort zone and bring on board people that are not like you. 

A key point within this book that resonates with me when forming teams is the power of the dominance dynamic. This is the practice where those in positions of power or those with a personality of control over others lead to a lack of opinions and ideas not being shared. It can be a natural reaction to follow and listen to those types of people, but it is dangerous, particularly within innovation teams. That’s why I would always recommend focusing on personalities over roles and over influence, as big voices may drown out those within the team that can truly add value. 

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