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How to define your innovation team

11.11.2013
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Part of the DNA of innovation is that it signals a shift away from business as usual towards a new, and hopefully exciting, future.  The cash cow core of your business won’t be like that.  It will be designed and structured to do what it does as efficiently and as profitably as possible.  It’s important therefore that the way your innovation team is structured breaks free from the cultural norms of your core business.

It can do that in a few distinct ways:

Job titles

The first place to look is the name of the positions people will adopt when they’re hired into the team.  If you preserve the nomenclature of job titles from the core of the business then it will be difficult for members of the project team to make the mental shift away from business as usual.

Whilst the title may seem an insignificant thing, it actually acts as short hand for the kind of work that person is expected to do, where their responsibilities lie and their status within the organisation.  Being a member of the innovation team will require new thinking and new relationships to be built, so it’s crucial that job titles support that.  Whilst using ninjas or what not in the job title isn’t to be recommended, there is scope to be creative with how you brand particular roles.

Job descriptions

The natural bedfellow of the job title is the job description.  A team devoted to innovation will inherently face a degree of uncertainty as they’re dealing with a very uncertain topic.  Therefore having strong job descriptions that each member of the team buy into can be very useful.  Job crafting is a good exercise to employ here, allowing team members to assess afresh both how they will work as individuals and collectively as a team.

Location

A final mechanism for bonding a new team together is their physical location.  Skunk Works teams at Lockheed Martin for instance benefited from having a space dedicated to that particular team.  A number of employers now offer hot-desking, which whilst designed to enable greater collaboration between teams, can have the knock on effect of damaging attempts at team building.  Even with digital collaboration tools allowing teams to work together wherever their physical location, there is merit in having members of the innovation project team located together.

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