Being part of a good innovative team is a dream. It is mutually rewarding, there are no stepped on toes or bruised egos, and everyone helps elevate each other’s ideas and projects to that “OMG wait until the world sees what were doing!” level. However, not all teams are created the same, and some are clearly created just to put sand in your sunscreen. I’ve identified four attributes that can help your innovation team reach new heights and upgrade into a traction-churning prototype machine!
Making change sounds intuitive when working in innovation, but “change” is not just a product your team produces. Your team must embody change in order to stay relevant, effective, and productive. An innovative team that is set in their ways is like a brand new car in neutral; flashy and shiny now but ultimately going nowhere.
Change exists in your team procedures. There is no set template for innovation and what works today may not work tomorrow. Since variables and climates shift constantly, each problem you set out to solve needs to be evaluated for appropriate procedures for you and your team. Surveys and A/B testing of prototypes may have helped you understand your wireframes, but will those procedures help you learn about functionality?
Change exists in your team skills. Previously, we’ve talked about being T-shaped. If you are T-shaped, then your horizontal skills are where the change is going to be most noticeable. Those are the skills that possibly overlap with teammates, but are needed to fill in production gaps. Similarly, based on your proposed solutions that you need to prototype, you and your team may need to stretch beyond your skill sets into unknown territory. Sure, there are vendors out there that are experts in what you need to accomplish but they cost money. If you’re in the prototyping stage, you will need to weigh whether you can learn enough to create a testable prototype or if you need to spend the money. Either way, you should start learning about what you need, even if you chose to outsource work with a vendor. It makes communication easier if you have a basic understanding.
This can often be the hardest one for a team to develop because we want to encourage everyone. Yet not every idea, prototype, or hypothesis is a world-changing gem. Sometimes they’re just bland blobs of meh. That’s ok. You can still praise effort without agreeing with an idea. Try to level up the mediocre hypotheses and raise up your teammates. However, and I can not stress this enough, DO NOT LET THEM MOVE FORWARD WITH A STANDARD IDEA. You are doing them a disservice by not forcing them to make the idea better. You are passively undermining your whole innovation team. Likewise, you should prepare yourself for the time when your team will say your idea is “average” or worse. Candor is a two-way street. I am lucky that my team has saved me from shipping mediocre ideas. The best way you can show true respect for each other, is to demand each other’s best effort everyday.
“Life is way too short to make mediocre stuff. And almost everything that is “standard” now is viewed as mediocre.” – Seth Godin, Tribes
Innovation is lantern and unfiltered it can burn as bright as the sun. Nothing diminishes that light more than personal plans to receive recognition. In an innovative team, a team full of T-shaped dynamos, there is no room for ego and personal glory. When someone wins, it is because of the team. Just like a apple tree can not point to one rain storm as the reason it grew, your ideas are the product of the fertile soil in your brain and the collective brainstorms of your team in the past, event he unrelated ones. It is a bit cliche to say “There is no I in team” and it is quite futile because there are plenty of joke responses that defuse the power of the statement. However a team that is concerned about getting credit for individual contributions, wont contribute to the global good.
One great way to defuse this is to constantly recognize others for their contributions to your individual and team’s work. If people are constantly feeling appreciated for their efforts, then they won’t feel the need to find more recognition. It’s one of those “Do unto others” things. Plus, it’s just plain nice to do! Especially since you are working on an innovative team. Some projects you will lead and pilot. Others will find you following and pushing the project to gain momentum. And yet other projects will find you on the sidelines, cheering and consulting when you can. Team first, in every role.
You need to allow the odd, the unique, the unbelievable, and the silly to integrate with your team. Hopefully your team of innovators is a group of positive deviants; bristling with energy to make a good change in the world. Chances are that the team has some ideas that are “out there”. They must be allowed to exist. Maybe an idea can be so wild that you won’t do it, but talking about it can spur the conversation down avenues you would have never considered before. One of our favorite brainstorming questions is “What would our industry NEVER do?”. We dance on the undiscovered edges of the maps, the parts where the dragons are supposed to live. We need to be the explorers of the fringe, the cultivators of the odd thoughts. That’s how we disrupt the market’s standard flow.
- When was the last time someone on your team said “This is how we always do it”?
- What’s the most minimal way you can start to incorporate kaizen into your procedures?
- A great way to start getting candor flowing is to be the first target. Put an idea out there and push your team to tear it apart. Have them find ways that it will fail.
- How can you incorporate a team-only view of recognition?
- At your next brainstorming, challenge the team to come up with the worst ideas or the silliest ideas.
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