A Winning Innovation Team: Roles, Behaviours, Mindsets and Collaboration

Expert: Mark VernooijCurator: Andy Cars

Mark Vernooij is a partner at THNK School of Creative Leadership. He helps organizations around the world build purposeful innovation capabilities.

01 // What roles, behaviours and mindsets are needed for winning innovation teams?

02 // What tools, methods and processes can we use for creating high-performing teams?

03 // What role does collaboration play in creating winning innovation teams?

// Summary

When a CEO tells you she wants help building and motivating innovation teams, how do you engage with her?

In his role at the THNK School of Creative Leadership, Mark Vernooij has become adept at assessing and building innovative capacity in very large organizations. He sat down with curator Andy Cars to swap stories and share his methodology for adopting an explorative mindset.

Start at the top

There’s a lot of talk about bottom-up management. But when it comes to bringing an innovation mindset into your organization, you must have a CEO and board that are excited about the process. The C-suite needs to be willing to free up time, budget and effort to make this happen.

Get the C-suite to commit

Before engaging with an organization, Mark spends time up front with the leadership team, investigating their commitment to innovation with a series of questions and methods.

1. Is leadership truly committed to making this happen?
Engage leaders in a face-to-face conversation. Look them in the the eye to be sure they’re not paying lip service to innovation. Ask questions like: When was the last discussion you had about innovation and what was it about?

2. Is leadership willing to free up serious resources?
Leadership must be willing to allocate a sizeable budget that’s in line with the size of the organization. It’s not just about investing in consultants and trainers; it’s also critical to spend on their own people and new technology.

3. Do they have an explorative mindset?
Leaders need to be aware of how innovation is affecting the world around them. Do they get out of their bubble and explore? If not, do they have people around them who know what’s going on? Do they trust these people to take the wheel?

Evaluate innovation teams where they’re at

Assessing the health and performance of an innovation team requires different process and criteria depending on which phase of the innovation funnel the team is currently on.

At the front end of the funnel, from research to ideation, evaluate the amount of learning. A great team in the early phase of an innovation project is learning quickly. It’s not about putting conventional KPIs in place, but incentivising teams to come up with new insights.

Further along in the funnel, during development and shipping, put traditional KPIs into place. Begin by tracking metrics around customer satisfaction. As the project advances, move into metrics such as sales or volume of downloads.

“Innovation is not a democratic process… Sometimes people think that innovation is only about freedom. But structure really helps.”

Listen to the skeptics

You want to talk with that old grumpy guy who’s in the corner. He’ll tell you what’s going to go wrong and when. And he knows. He’ll also tell you your project is going to fail (but don’t listen to that part).

Ugly baby versus the beast

At Pixar they speak about feeding the beast (the big, loud, hungry studio) versus looking after the ugly baby (a small, weak, new script). That tiny innovation startup is your ugly baby; it’s difficult for executives to love and understand something that is small and not really working. But the future of your business may depend on making that ugly baby big and strong.