In the Moment

A Guide to Setting Up Your Innovation Team For Success

Simon Mhanna

Around the world, organizations and leaders are advocating for disruptive innovation to shake up their business as they strive to remain relevant. Everyone knows that innovation is important, but what does it really mean? When thinking about innovation, we often confuse the outcome and the approach; we end up reducing the value of innovation to a shiny slogan on a website, a bunch of stickies in a meeting room, or the launch of a new technology product. In many organizations, innovation teams are expected to work in the vacuum of an Innovation Lab, left alone and unsupported to navigate highly complex protocols and silos, and tasked with wringing more productivity out of old, inflexible systems. They are expected to amaze, but to do it all within budget, and within the parameters of existing organizational barriers.

Everyone knows that innovation is important, but what does it really mean?

The glamorous results of successful innovation often outshine the effort and infrastructure required to enable it, and, even more importantly, to sustain it. Leaders may speak to their commitment to innovation, but they focus on the final product, with little attention to how it is actually made. The urgency to deliver and the pressure to compete often results in redesigning the current offering, putting “lipstick on the pig” and making it only incrementally better. They tend to forget that true innovation is a radical departure from the status quo and the establishment of a new platform that enables novel ways of doing the work that were not previously possible.

Rebuilding the system and scaling up can be daunting; shortcuts are often the selected resort. We know however, that even truly innovative products and services will only take us so far if they don’t go hand-in-hand with true change. At The Moment we acknowledge the fact that change is hard. Although it can be overwhelming, it is also manageable; we think of innovation as an ongoing journey which can be broken down into manageable chunks.

Luckily a new breed of committed leaders and intrapreneurs has sprung up to champion real innovation ventures, and our commitment is to help them set the stage for meaningful change. The Moment has designed a guide to help you establish a solid foundation for challenging projects, essentially to embark on your own Innovation Journey. “Setting Up Your Innovation Teams For Success” describes our innovation framework which integrates methods and principles from business, service design, design thinking, agile, lean startup, stage-gate, systems thinking and organizational change.

How does it help?

Integrative toolkit
There are a wealth of innovation tools and methods available; knowing where to begin can be overwhelming especially if one doesn’t fluently speak the languages of design thinking and service design. Yet these tools are essential for innovation work. Used to their fullest, tools may define the project, and at the very least they will influence your approach. Part of our role as Innovation Designers is to constantly acquire new tools, engage and facilitate groups in their use, and even to design and develop new tools to aid the process. Our framework blends the tools, grounding them in years of experience and solid understanding of innovation work to create something much greater than the sum of its parts.

…knowing where to begin can be overwhelming…

Iterative process
Innovation is unpredictable. We can never be sure for how long current conditions will exist. In fact, we can never be sure, even in the short term, that the whole game will not be completely upended, rendering our carefully well-thought strategy out of date. If the rules are continuously shifting, it makes sense that rigid and inflexible plans won’t do us any good; that sort of planning may even be harmful. Being agile and adopting a lean method make total sense. Our proposed framework allows innovators the space to build and test ideas, learn and pivot, and then do it again and again until the desired outcome is achieved.

Team formation
Unless innovation is completely embedded in the organization’s cultural DNA, it is extremely difficult for innovation labs to rally the teams and create innovation initiatives that stick. In innovation team set-ups where employees across the organization are assigned to innovation projects without fully comprehending how their outcomes are imperative to achieving the organizational purpose, it is likely that the new initiative will clash with perceived core business priorities and be doomed to failure. As part of setting up any innovation project, we focus on how key resources should come together to lead and connect with subject-matter experts, project sponsors and customers in a bold and sustainable fashion from challenge launch, to project execution and evaluation, in order to set up the project for success.

Internal buy-in
Often innovation initiatives are particularly challenging at the middle management level. The reasons vary. Sometimes senior leaders are not available, or are not fully committed to breaking down barriers or securing funding. Teams may neither support the work nor adopt it. We have also witnessed rejection and fear of the new. Any of these scenarios lead to the ultimate failure of the innovation initiative.

For real change to occur you’ve got to ensure that the support is coming from the top down, and the bottom up. It is crucial to involve senior leaders, internal and external customers and any other key stakeholders, in the process. The guide outlines a plan to co-create a project plan with stakeholders, and establish the grounds for true collaboration and breakthrough projects.

Innovation System
There are many areas of innovation beyond products and services. With a spectrum that spreads throughout the organizational layers, from frontline and customers’ interactions to the core of vision and strategy, innovations opportunities multiply, intersect and interdepend. Having a clear system to map these various opportunities within the organization puts things in context and accelerates the emergence of risks and barriers that could put any project in jeopardy. The creation and aligned understanding of an innovation ecosystem allows us to join forces for even more impactful work.

Let’s not kid ourselves, there is no secret recipe for successful, risk-free innovation.

Learning
Let’s not kid ourselves, there is no secret recipe for successful, risk-free innovation. That being said, nurturing a culture that not only allows for, but recognizes innovation, in all its fuzzy, ambiguous glory, is an imperative and could be our only chance for producing outcomes that stick. Creating a space for stakeholders to come together to create, fail, learn, and iterate again will free them up to test new ideas to overcome barriers. It should be a safe zone that acknowledges risk and uncertainty, and encourages early failures as a way to learn from mistakes and correct them quickly. To allow that to happen “Learn” must be an integral component of the innovation journey. The Moment’s framework is designed with many “Learn Pitstops” to put emphasis on the importance of learning and to hold space for it to happen.

I once read that innovation is a long road trip that requires strong planning before venturing out. Our guide aims to instill in leaders a sense of confidence and courage to embark on that journey. It is a tool to help equip yourself with tools to will make the trip (slightly!) easier and more impactful. As with any long journey, Investing in good gear for the trip is essential. Because the road is long, it always wise to bring a buddy. The Moment team can help you to navigate, remind you to take rejuvenating stops, help you change direction and persevere when needed, and to celebrate your accomplishments along the way.

Click here to request a copy of The Moment guide “Setting Up Your Innovation Teams For Success”.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Medium, June 21, 2016

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