Innovation stems from creativity, but fostering creativity requires a certain amount of structure. Getting the balance between creativity and structure right is key to building a successful innovation team. The following tips can be used to help an existing innovation team become more successful, or to build one from scratch.
Select a Team Leader
While innovation thrives when individuals are empowered to think creatively, the process of harnessing that creativity for commercial purposes can benefit from proper guidance. To get the most out of your innovation teams, appointing a single leader is typically considered optimal. This allows rapid decision making and clear guidance as to the team’s direction, both of which are essential for maximizing your team’s ability to foster innovation.
The team leader should be a skilled enough manager to understand that different team members may be required to take the lead when matters relevant to their area of expertise are being decided. To this end, it is generally best to allow the innovation team leader to have autonomy, or at least a large say, in selecting team members. This approach ensures that the team composition is designed from the outset to work in harmony with the team leader’s vision. A team functioning along these lines is likely to work more efficiently than one made up of members selected without regard to how well their skillsets and approaches harmonize with the team leader’s vision for the innovation team.
Emphasize Open Communication
It’s difficult for the sum of an innovation team’s efforts to be greater than that of its individual parts if the team members don’t communicate effectively with one another. To avoid this dynamic, free and open communication between team members should be emphasized. Many innovations result from the commingling of ideas from a number of different individuals – communication is essential to enabling this process.
The saying that a team is only as strong as its weakest link helps explain why communication is so important to helping your team innovate. If certain members of your team are out of the loop and not receiving vital information about the team’s projects, they become weak links by virtue of being unable to fully contribute to those projects. Given that every member of an innovation team generally has a role to play in the team’s success, withholding valuable information of this type is likely to prove counterproductive to the team’s chances of success. Team collaboration is not just to be desired but is to be mandatory!
If your team’s members are not located at the same site, use video or telephone conferences to bring the team together to review project status on a regular basis. Collaboration software should also be used to enhance your team’s ability to communicate and comment on team-related tasks.
Provide an Environment That Supports Creativity
While the creativity necessary to foster innovation can benefit from a certain level of structure, too much regimentation can be counterproductive. To provide an environment that helps maximize the team’s creativity, steps such as the following can be taken:
- Give team members some scheduling leeway to provide them with the time to thoroughly consider various options for innovating
- Provide your innovation team members with unstructured time to unwind and relax, allowing their creative energy to recharge
- Schedule group brainstorming sessions where team members can bounce ideas off each other
Providing a supportive environment for creativity involves taking into account the factors which enable people to feel comfortable in coming up with new ideas. Innovation involves new ideas – if your team members feel supported in this task by the work environment they inhabit, it improves the chances that they will come up with quality ideas.
Seek Diverse Skill-Sets
Innovation teams that don’t include members with a variety of skillsets can suffer from a lack of depth in their approach to new ideas as well as the phenomenon of groupthink, where an idea gains hold of the whole group even if it not particularly helpful or even accurate. When team members possess diverse skillsets, it increases the chances that the team as a whole will be challenged to look at things in different ways and consider different approaches to solving problems.
To innovate, firms typically need individuals who are technically skilled as well as creative types who, whatever their level of technical knowledge, can provide a vision of how things should be done that drives innovation forward. Many of the most successful innovations involve both a vision of how things should be, or of the direction market forces are heading, combined with the technical skill to make the vision a reality. Recruiting team members with diverse skillsets provides an innovation team with the broad array of knowledge and expertise necessary to make this happen.
Establish Goals and Review Progress
When it comes to establishing goals, innovation teams may find it difficult to pin down exact objectives, given the uncertainty involved in the creation of new products or processes. However, this should not be used as an excuse to avoid setting goals at all. While the goals set for an innovation team may not detail exactly what the team will produce, they should serve to specify generally what the team is trying to accomplish.
When setting down these general goals, it can be helpful to identify an overall vision to be used in guiding the team’s approach to innovation. This provides a structure to help direct the team’s creativity in a productive direction. While a certain amount of leeway, of thinking “outside the box,” can be beneficial, if your innovation team’s ideas venture too far from the company’s area of expertise its ability to commercialize them may be limited.
Schedule Team Building Events to Foster Camaraderie
To promote your innovation team’s ability to work well together, take steps to build camaraderie among team members. Team building events can take a variety of forms, including:
- Off-site meetings
- Brainstorming sessions
- Social events (ballgames, artistic events, etc.)
- Teamwork exercises
Events like this help each member of the team, whatever their role, feel that they are an essential part of the team. Additionally, as team members get to know each other on a personal and professional level it is likely to improve their ability to collaborate on work-related projects.
Nuvro is a robust online project management tool that helps you build a successful innovation team. With Nuvro you can gain control and peace of mind over all of your projects, tasks, team members, workload and everything else important to your company. In addition to the project, task and collaboration features found in most PM tools, Nuvro also provides a company dashboard, a team dashboard, team member performance reviews, secure document management, an internal alternative to email and more. Nuvro is perfect for busy teams looking to accomplish more. Learn More…