- How To Assemble Your Team For Innovation
By Leo Boudreau
One of the most crucial tasks related to a successful innovation effort is assembling the appropriate team. A team focused on innovation has very different requirements from a team with an operational focus and a number of different factors need to be taken into consideration and different qualities and characteristics are sought after. The first question you need to answer is what is the purpose of your team? Are you bringing together a group for 1-2 days to do some idea generation or problem solving or are you bringing together a group that you want to take an idea from beginning concept all the way through to implementation? While there will be considerable overlap between selection criteria, there are also some critical differences that need to be taken into account.
How many people should be on the team?
The ideal group size for a couple of day session is 7-10 people. That is the ideal number because, in our experience, it gives everybody adequate air time to fully participate and allows for a level of diversity of background and expertise in the group to get a good range of thinking. If, for internal reasons, the group size needs to be bigger, consider breaking up into smaller working groups to stay within range of the ideal size. You can bring the groups together at the end to share results and build on outputs.
For a team that will be together for an extended period of time, you will want a core team of 7-10 people. These people will work together through the entire process and will be responsible for seeing the project through to a successful conclusion. At different points during the project, you will want to draw upon other people as part of an extended team when different skills and expertise are needed. For example, the skills needed during the idea generation and invention stage are different than those that will be needed when implementation is undertaken and prototypes are designed. Introducing people to work with the core team at various points in the process not only allows for their expertise to be introduced into the work but it exposes them to the developing idea and begins to build awareness and support for the developing idea within the organization
What type of people should I select?
Ideally, team members should be selected because they bring a key expertise that will benefit the team, are creative, open minded thinkers, and good connection makers. It is also important to have the person or people responsible for driving the project forward represented in the group. You do not want to have your work undermined at a crucial point because the key decision maker was not involved in the process. Everyone understands that you greatly enhance your chances for breakthrough thinking if you assemble a team with diversity as a key consideration. There are the obvious diversity factors that should be taken into consideration: gender, cultural, functional expertise, education, background, etc.
We also focus on the need for diversity around individual’s style towards innovation. In our research, we have identified three types of individuals – Inventor, Developer, and Implementer. Each of these types brings a distinct set of strengths to the innovation process and will provide particular value during different stages of the process. However, a team out of style balance can cause issues for the team’s ultimate success. For example, one type of situation you want to avoid is where you have a team with only Inventor types. Because of their style preference, they might want to generate ideas and search for a perfect idea. They might have a difficult time making a decision and pushing the idea into development. Similar issues can develop with teams overweighed with any particular type. We will elaborate further on the characteristics of the Inventor, Developer, and Implementer in a future posting.
Finally, there are two additional considerations for assembling an innovation team. You want a naïve viewpoint on your team. People who do not have specific content expertise in the area that you will be working on are able to approach the problem in different ways and are able to make connections different from the content experts. This can frequently be the source of breakthrough ideas or raw material for new ideas. In the same way, an external perspective can be very valuable. Probably not as a member of your core team but including a client, prospect or an expert in your field in some of your work sessions can generate new avenues of thinking, new perspectives and ultimately, new ideas.