How to create a powerful innovation team

Author: Lee Billingham

How does a company in any industry ensure it has an enduring capability to innovate? There is no shortage of material on innovation processes and techniques to improve or maintain innovation performance. However, many of these overlook the role of people in innovation and assume they are all the same. The people are in fact the most influential factor of all so here we look at how to get this element of innovation right.

Teams are made of individuals
It’s obvious, but every organisation comprises individuals and each brings unique skills, experiences and qualifications. They also have a style and preferences; their own way of doing things. Two individuals with the same qualifications can carry out the same role successfully but differently, often dramatically so.

In any business there will be a mix of individuals with innovation skills. Determining who they are and how they can contribute is the most important first step in improving innovation in an organisation, but how can this be done?

Analytical Psychology
Analytical psychology helps to understand individuals. It was developed by Carl Gustav Jung and is in wide use today. It provides the basis for personality assessments, emphasises the importance of the inner self and identifies two general attitudes:

  • Extravert: Outer directed with a need for sociability, chooses people as a source of energy, often action orientated.
  • Introvert: Inner-directed with a need for privacy and space, chooses solitude to recover energy, reflective.

It also highlights four functions:

  • Thinking function: Logical, sees cause and effect relations, cool, distant, frank, questioning.
  • Feeling functions: Creative, warm, intimate, a sense of valuing positively to negatively.
  • Sensing function: Sensory, orientated toward the body and senses, detailed, concrete, present.
  • Intuitive: Sees many possibilities in situations, goes with hunches, impatient with details, impractical, sometimes not present.

Most of us have a mix of these functions. The reader may reflect on his or her own at this point and may even start to identify some functions within the individuals of their organisation.

With the framework that Analytical Psychology provides, observing and listening can provide detail about an organisation or team. For example, who is quiet in a meeting, who likes to dominate the conversation, who is full of enthusiasm to act, who talks about the risks?

Whilst observation can offer the first clues about the functions and attitudes of a person it is not comprehensive or fool proof. This is partly because most of us can adapt in some ways to suit the circumstances, so a more detailed analysis and tools can help.

There are verified tools that can provide detailed insight to individual preferences. Each tool derives its output from an individual’s response to a series of questions. It provides fascinating insights into many aspects such as personality style, attitude to risk, creativity, communication preferences, value to a team, reaction to pressure. The results can even be placed in a specific context such as Safety Leadership or Innovation.

The output for each team member, when mapped together with the others, shows the balance in a team. It will highlight where the team is strong, where it needs attention and the suitability to meet its goals.

Innovation in teams
So what skills are needed for a team to be innovative? Innovation comprises;

  • A creative element;
  • An execution and delivery element.

This presents a dichotomy as individuals who are strong creatively are often poor at execution and delivery. Equally, those strong at delivery often do not have the capacity to be creative, to relish ambiguity and identify opportunities within it. The need for a combination is best illustrated by examples.

Example 1
The founder of a small enterprise was frustrated by the company’s inabilities to commercialise its inventions and intellectual property. By using one of the profiling tools available, the analysis of its leadership team (mapped in Figure 2) indicated bias towards yellow and green preferences.

Figure 2

Figure 2

This helped to explain a lack of focus, a tendency to take on too much, inconsistency in decision making and poor attention to detail. The solution was to recruit personnel with detailed execution and delivery skills to fully realise the value of the company’s creativity.

Example 2
The leadership of an operations team in a major international company wanted to improve team performance, through adoption of more agile approaches to business challenges and adoption of new technologies.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Analysis of its leadership team shown in Figure 3 indicated a strong bias towards the red and blue preferences. This team struggled with the creativity typically provided by the yellow and green preferences due to a dominance of the red and blue preferences. It helped to explain competing agendas, risk aversion and decision-making that lacked empathy.

The leadership agreed to find better ways to harness the strengths of those with a green and yellow preference. By making sure these preferences were allowed the freedom to operate, the team released greater creativity, innovation and commitment.

Next steps
Overall team composition must be optimised to achieve innovation or any other goals. Innovation requires creativity and delivery, so to ensure the optimum balance the reader should:

  1. Check goal clarity for the team and qualitatively assess its capabilities to meet them, noting;
    • if the goals are unclear, more definition will be vital and;
    • gaps in team capability will often be identified by missed deadlines, a lack of focus, ideas and commitment.
  2. Understand the preferences of team members, the balance within the team and therefore its suitability to achieve goals. For detailed understanding, use tools, noting;
    • Severe imbalances can only be addressed by changes in staff; don’t waste time on other ‘solutions’.
    • Recruitment must be based on the skills and preferences needed to balance the team to meet goals;
  3. Marginal imbalances may be addressed through changed working practices
  4. Ensure the team leadership facilitates the release of all relevant skills to achieve optimum innovation performance.

 To help your team release more innovation you can contact Lee Billingham


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