I revised this “rule of thumb” list for a client and she suggested I re-share it in a blog post. This list is the accumulated wisdom of many years and it includes thinking from colleagues in the innovation space. Its target is the innovation team leader, but there are lessons for all types of team members here.
The big change from the previous version is the emphasis on projects. It’s the key to Innovation in my view, from culture change to positive team dynamics to effectiveness of an overall innovation program. It’s the one thing of innovation — doing Projects.
So here goes:
21 Rules for Innovation Team Building
1. A strong bold project initiative, with a clear vision for the future. inspires teams. I’m talking PROJECTS. If you’re not doing projects you’re not doing innovation. A compelling project has the right people wanting to be involved, it attracts talent to your innovation project. Projects are how you create and sustain an innovation culture.
2. If you are the organizer/leader know that Who is on the team may have more impact then any other choice you make. As they say in golf, all bets are made on the first tee, get the team right before getting started. Hint: make it as diverse as possible in thinking style, age, sex, expertise areas, and experience. Talent matters, you need the best people possible. Five decent engineers don’t replace one with a bit of genius. Get talent!
3. If you can’t choose who is on your team, clarity of roles and task fit, are very important choices. Teams work best when people know what’s expected of them. Even if you do manage the team roster, getting roles clarified is key.
4. When a team member leaves or a new member comes on board, don’t forget you have work to do in reforming the team. Really, it’s a whole new team. Take the time to re-orient. And, while re-orienting, keep pushing a Project forward. Don’t delay innovation while adjusting team or culture. Projects by there very nature help you do that.
5. Don’t forget the fun element “if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right” (JFK). Try to integrate an element of fun in all the team does. Especially when things are dead serious! Consider getting Improv for Business training.
6. Regardless of who is on your team, overt appreciation of strengths and diversity is a good place to start. Starting with positives is always a good idea. Train your team in the PPCO tool. And leaders — you model the behaviour, how you appreciate will be how the team appreciates (or not).
7. Build trust all the time. Make deposits to the “savings account” you have with each team member. You can, and will need to, “withdraw” from that account in difficult times (thanks Stephen Covey). A key to building trust is rigorous integrity around your word. Do what you say you will do. If you don’t, or have a problem, come clean on it ASAP.
8. Trust is not blind. The more you seek to understand the motives of your team members, the better.
9. Deal with Conflict. All teams go through rough patches. As Dean Kamen says, if you don’t encounter big problems or surprises, you’re not innovating. When it “hits the fan” be an example in keeping the faith and remaining positive. The old Tuckman model of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing is something All teams go through. Sadly, many teams get stuck forever in Storming. If you can resolve conflict you are on your way to high performance. Don’t avoid conflict!
10. Do the Basics well. Vince Lombardi won a lot of championships by focusing on, and repeating endlessly, the most basic plays and fundamentals. Basic fitness and clarity of jobs and roles were the rock he built his teams on. He knew that when the going gets tough, those who execute the basic things well, win. So, when in doubt, return to the basics. The basics of innovation are essentially structured creative problem solving. Revisit CPS. And refocus on PROJECTS. It wouldn’t hurt to read Jack’s Notebook.
11. Cut out the Cancer. Sometimes a person simply shouldn’t be on a team. Be very careful in making this judgment because sometimes the mavericks are exactly who you need. Still, sometimes people can’t be brought into the fold and focused on the goal at hand. And if they can’t, they can wreak havoc on the project, team dynamics and productivity. If you are dead sure someone is hopeless, cut out the cancer, say You’re Fired. It’s a very tough call, but when you make it you are often thanked for doing it by other team members.
12. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. Celebrate victories, even the small ones, and celebrate learning even in failures or setbacks. Edison was of the philosophy there is no failure; be like Edison.
13. Project Kick-offs are important. Do them with energy, fun, and style. Build up a head of steam for your innovation project. You’ll need it.
14. Communicate unselfishly, share your knowledge, and share honestly in a way that the person can hear.
15. A good team is always an active learning team. And it doesn’t have to relate to the project. It’s funny how often something completely unrelated comes into play later on.
16. Be aware of the balance and flow of polarities that exist for your team. Remember that too much team can be just as bad as not enough. Allow for individual self-expression within the team. Teams are not problems to solve, they are a mass of polarities to manage (see Bruce Johnson’s “Polarity Management“)
17. Your team is as strong as its weakest link. A good team makes efforts to cover, improve, or strengthen its deficiencies. Read “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt to understand more about the “theory of constraints.” When someone is failing, help them succeed, this is how good teams work.
18. Effective teams engage in constructive disagreement around content with a “yes, and” not a “yes, but” attitude.
19. Listening is key. Take time to listen, listen with an open heart and an open mind.
20. Know thyself — what you can contribute to the team and what others can contribute that doesn’t come naturally to you. Team Leaders need to facilitate team awareness of strengths and weaknesses.
21. In teams, seek to “pull in” the outliers, the mavericks, those who we tend to exclude. Everyone has something important to offer the team — find it. Everybody wants people who think differently until it becomes uncomfortable. That discomfort might be the key to a breakthrough, embrace it.