Managing an Innovation Team

Managing an Innovation Team by Walter McIntyre

Innovation is as much about failure as it is success.  Innovation thrives in a culture that is open to challenging the status quo and allowing employees to make mistakes as new ideas are generated. Organizations that do not tolerate failure simply cannot innovate in a way that we would call successful.

Managing an organization that has an innovative culture can be stressful, as there is bound to be friction as new ideas rub up against established ways of doing things and other employee’s ideas. This friction is good if managed right.  This means creating a safe environment for commenting on ideas, introducing ideas and “sharpening the sword” against each other.

Here are a few tactics for creating and maintaining an innovative environment.

Demand Speed

Faster completion of project tasks and phases, ideas backed by “one pager” documents, short meetings that have agendas and “cut to the chase” will underscore how business is done. Innovation is sometimes based upon rolling out ideas, testing them and moving on as quickly as possible.

Define the Gap

By defining the gap or opportunity where you want to focus your energies, you can keep the team on target.  Make sure that the customer plays a part in defining the opportunity or gap. The ultimate waste of time is to work on something that the targeted audience does not care about.

Get Outside the Box

Spend more time listening to customers (and potential customers).  Spend time watching and listening to competitors.  Include mavens in the targeted markets, new suppliers and folks outside the innovation expertise window in your idea evaluation process.  The point is to broaden the footprint of your organization’s thinking.

Don’t Get Caught Up in Small Stuff

Successful writers do not edit while they write.  They get the creativity flowing first and correct later. This defines innovation in writing (a totally innovative process).  From a business point of view, focusing on the idea and its supporting, or detracting, points, is the path to innovation.  Avoid getting caught up in spelling, grammar, color, etc.  There will be time for that when you are ready to present outside the innovation group.

Be Part of the Team

One of the characteristics of a high performance work group is the lack of visible evidence of a command and control network within the innovation team.  This facilitates trust, communication and conservation of time.  When a leader is out among those they lead, there is a reduced need for formal reporting and meetings.

Challenge People to Learn

Assign employees to projects teams that are working on ideas outside of their expertise.  This enables fresh ideas to be introduced and forces more thorough discussions.  Additionally, this expands the talent and knowledge footprint for your employees.