Choosing an innovation team
Given that, it's somewhat surprising to me how little thought is given to who is on the innovation team. In many instances when I quiz our clients about how a team was put together, we find out that many of the people on the team were assigned. You know how this works - management dictates a head tax of one person per product group or business function, and the executives scramble to find out who is 1)available and 2) won't embarrass them, not who is the best candidate for the role. The best people are reserved for key projects already underway. So, many innovation teams are made up of people who aren't necessarily the best innovators and who often were unwilling participants.
Innovation teams should be made up of VOLUNTEERS who are completely committed to the concept. If the work is going to be difficult and risky, I would at least like to know that the people on the team want to be there and want to make a difference. I want people who are ENGAGED, not assigned and who want to create change. I don't care as much about experience as I do PASSION, since when all else fails it will be the desire and passion that pushes through the barriers. I am interested in RULE BREAKERS, not rule takers. People who accept the rules as stated (or unstated in a culture) will not effect great change. I want people on the team who are willing to go the extra mile, since innovation will always require more work than their current job. Nine to fivers will find it difficult. I want people who are comfortable with ambiguity, since innovation often works outside the lines of black and white, in the gray areas where there are no templates. People who are too comfortable with either/or propositions aren't successful innovators.
Additionally I want people who understand that innovation is as much about learning as it is about creating, so they understand that the ideas will occasionally fail. I need people on the innovation team to be willing to discover what's great about an idea rather than what's wrong with it. I need the first words out of their mouths to be "What if" rather than "But". I want people who don't care how we did it before, or whether the idea has been considered before. I want people who look for opportunities for success rather than reasons not to try.
Finally, I want a balanced team. I've written before about concepts like KAI and the FourSight model, but a recent training exercise brought this home. In the training I felt the team was not engaged, until we started working on the skills necesary for idea generation, evaluation and prototyping, when the team seemed much more engaged. Once again this brought home the fact that some people are synthesizers, some ideators and some developers. Understanding the preferences and skills and balancing those skills on the team is vital. The Foursight model does a good job of helping you understand each person's predilection, which can help you balance the team. Everyone can participate in an innovation effort, given the appropriate mindsets (see above) and everyone has a different range of interests and skills. Building a team with five ideators and no developers is dangerous because the team will be biased toward generating ideas but may never actually develop anything.
Let's look at this another way. If you were planning to scale a mountain, you'd recruit people you knew had the skills to climb the mountain and consider what each person brought to the team. You'd remind them of the challenges and the dangers and ask anyone who had doubts or concerns to leave. You'd look for a good balance of skills and capabilities and experiences. You'd leave anyone behind who was doubtful of the outcome. In other words, you'd recruit and build a team that was more likely to be successful from the start. Why would you do anything less when building an innovation team? If innovation is critical for your business, and if it is a high-stakes activity, then why wouldn't you build the team in exactly the same way?
There's an old saying that some people are born to greatness and others have it thrust upon them. Don't allow just anyone to be thrust upon you in your innovation team. Set high expectations and recruit the best people - in fact, have them apply to be part of the team.