xxviii) Making a Team Innovative


As team-based operations become more common, 2 new realities of corporate creativity have become apparent

. Teams can indeed come up with novel solutions to business problems, and often offer fresher ideas than any single person in the organisation can generate.

. Teams do not perform this magic automatically ‐ the process must be managed

One way to achieve this is to ask participants to identify the successful creative projects they have been involved with and how they carried these projects beyond the initial idea stage.

All innovations begin with creative ideas. Successful implementation of new programs, new product introductions, or new services depends on a person or team having a good idea, and then developing that idea beyond its initial, ill-formed state.

They are 6 management conditions evident in a successful creative project team

1 Management shows confidence in the team, ie walk the talk and actions speak louder than words

2 Make sure that the members of the team are communicating with one another in a free flowing, or may be even free wheeling, way, ie need to value diversity and have the right mix of people, functions and expertise, etc (the best ideas often come from the strangest places)

3 Ensure that the team members enough responsibility, including some you might be tempted to keep for yourself

4 Provide the appropriate resources to the team, and make sure its members know that those resources are available

5 Make sure that each team member has challenging work, ie working towards a goal that they find interesting

6 Monitor the pressure, ie too much or too little can inhibit creativity

(source: Harvard Management Updates, 1996 ‐ 99)

.To handle the increasingly complex problems, challenges, etc that require innovative solutions there is a need for a broad mix of expertise common on cross industry teams. Members often live in different intellectual worlds and have distinct technical languages.  Also there can be a wide gulf between behavioural norms and values across industries and professions. The diverse team members need to be able to grasp and share one another's perspectives, insights, etc. There is a 4 element process to help teams do this
1.  Foster an adaptive vision  - a compelling vision motivates, inspires team members to work hard and collaborate, otherwise there is the chance that members will become cynical and demoralised.  On the other hand, for cross industry teams operating where innovation projects are complex, dynamic and uncertain, the vision may be deliberately designed to evolve the following reasons

- the team's capabilities are often unclear at the onset. With members' expertise being integrated, new possibilities come into focus
- provides room for the diverse membership to be modified it as the work unfolds
- as these projects develop, end users' needs may change

While the project vision may shift, the motivating values do not. Also, the importance of the endeavour is often framed in terms of personal, social or environmental values.

An unsuccessful example of an unfolding vision is software start-up LivingPlanIT which led a five-year smart-city project in Portugal.  The prospect of a gleaming, green, high-tech, experimental city was personally motivating to participants from diverse industry backgrounds, ranging from software to real estate development to city government.  The challenge of getting agreement on a master plan, what was doable to build a city, etc, resulted in the vision changing to develop and globally distribute smart city software. This was not acceptable to all participants and drove a wedge between them.

A successful example is Lake Nona Medical city project launched in 1999 with a vision, ie transform 2,800 undeveloped sectors in Florida into a thriving stable city focused on healthcare innovation. It involved an environmentally sustainable research and development campus plus medical school and hospital. It featured energy-efficient, state-of-the-art homes, LED streetlights, shops, restaurants, community facilities. It encouraged innovation in everything from basic science to care delivery.  The vision was explicitly communicated to potential partners.

"...Then rather than spell out a specific plan on how team members would participate, they launched a conversation about possibilities and how the various partners might enrich and alter the vision..."
Amy Edmondson 2016

2. Promote psychological safety - by encouraging people speak freely, the following behaviours were encouraged, ie be curiosity, acknowledging uncertainty and highlighting their own fallibility.  This was important for the following reasons
- people often fear exposing their ignorance in front of experts from a different discipline, eg what appears a reasonable question in one discipline can be seen as a stupid one by another discipline
- participants can hold stereotypical views of colleagues in another discipline and this can inhibit communications

"... Pointing out that the work ahead is experimental created an expectation that risk-taking, both interpersonal and technical, is essential.  When people understand this context, they are more likely to approach their collaborators with open-minded curiosity and feel less concerned about committing social blunders or exposing their ignorance..."
Amy Edmondson 2016

- need to build a safe environment (including legal context) that explicitly casts the diverse expertise casts amongst participants as a source of solutions rather than of conflict.  Thus all project share the projects risks and profits.

NB this is not the industry norm whereby cross-industry tensions are deeply entrenched

3. Enable knowledge sharing - misunderstanding and conflict can arise when experts fail to explain their reasoning that appears so obvious to them; thus the need for cross-domain exchanges; clarifying, understanding and accepting project values allows cross-industry teams to handle shifting roles and understanding professional values that characterise different disciplines and find a common ground among them.  Frame differences as a source of strength, eg house builders place a high value on reliability and getting it right the first time; software developers favour experimentation and speed to market.

4.  Foster execution as learning - traditional project management works well if tasks and interdependencies are well specified, while in complex, cross industry innovation projects this approach does not work. Best to embrace and execution-as-learning mindset that puts a premium on experimentation.

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