The right people with the right idea at the right time and with the right funding can do wonders.

Yet what is considered "right" can vary significantly from day to day, and determining what factors contribute to building a viable innovation team can be challenging.

During our recent Innov8rs Learning Lab on Culture, Talent & Teams, Bruno Pešec (The Profitable Innovation Expert) shared practical insights on building viable innovation teams.

Here’s a summary of his main remarks.

The Four Basic Elements Of Viable Innovation Teams

To determine the key factor behind the success of an innovation team, it's important to make a critical distinction between groups and teams in a corporate setting. Both groups and teams have significant roles in innovation. Still, they differ in three crucial dimensions that ultimately affect the outcome. The first dimension is goals. In groups, individuals have individual goals, while in teams, there is a shared communal goal. In a group, the goal is often a combination of personal goals, whereas in a team, every member works towards achieving a specific objective.

The second dimension is rewards. In groups, individual goals are associated with individual rewards, while in teams, rewards are linked to the shared communal goal. In other words, team members are incentivized to work together and collaborate to achieve a common goal.

The third dimension is efforts. In groups, the efforts of individuals are more independent, while in teams, efforts are interdependent. This means that in a group, individuals work independently towards their individual goals, while in a team, members work together and rely on each other's efforts to achieve the team's objective.

In the corporate innovation context, it's crucial to distinguish between innovation groups and innovation teams. Confusing the two can lead to destructive outcomes, as Bruno points out. Innovation teams are tasked with bringing innovative ideas to fruition, working together towards a common goal. In contrast, innovation groups provide guidance and support, often working behind the scenes to help foster innovation across the organization.

That being said, what makes innovation teams viable? What factors contribute to their success and ensure they have the potential to bring ideas to life? In this context, Bruno identifies four key basic elements: people, ideas, timing, and funding.

The Right People with the Right Idea…

For innovation teams to exist and thrive, it’s imperative to have the right people working on the right ideas. People and ideas are two sides of the same coin: ideas can’t be brought to life without skilled individuals to execute them.

“Ideas don't get executed out of thin air. Organizations are legal constructions; it's people that ultimately get work done”.

Having the right people on an innovation team goes beyond ‘just’ skills and expertise. As mentioned, they must share common goals and values, understand the overarching objectives, and be committed to achieving them. They must also be willing to learn, adapt, take risks, and challenge the status quo.

Once the right people are in place, the team can focus on executing the right ideas. These ideas should be relevant, feasible, and aligned with the organization's goals and objectives. They should address a specific problem or need, creating new opportunities for growth and value for the corporate.

… at the Right Time and with the Right Funding

Timing and funding are the two additional critical factors that significantly impact the viability of corporate innovation teams. The right timing is essential for teams to identify and seize opportunities at the optimal moment to achieve maximum benefit. This involves understanding the market, industry trends, customer needs, and technological advancements to determine the best time to launch an innovation.

"Timing is everything. Launching a product too early or too late can result in missed opportunities or failure to capture market share”.

The availability of the right funding is equally crucial. Adequate financial resources are necessary to develop, test, and launch new solutions. Without sufficient, appropriate funding, innovation projects may never get off the ground or fail to reach their full potential.

Timing and funding are interdependent factors: even if an innovation team has groundbreaking ideas and talented people, their chances of success are significantly reduced without the right timing and funding. Bruno highlights this point by sharing the story of Zoom, which started within a company that wasn’t ready to move forward with the idea. The founder then launched Zoom independently a few years before the pandemic.

It's also worth noting that timing and funding are temporal, dynamic elements. As market conditions, customer needs, and technology trends evolve, timing and funding can change, requiring innovation teams to be flexible and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Building Viable Innovation Teams: Here’s How

Having covered the key factors contributing to the viability of innovation teams, let's now explore how to determine what constitutes the "right" combination of people, ideas, timing, and funding for your corporate. Bruno proposes a simple four-step process comprising practical actions and questions that innovation leaders and team members can use to build well-equipped innovation teams and drive growth within organizations.

1. Right ideas (relevance and desired outcomes): selecting the right ideas to develop is crucial, yet it can be very challenging. According to Bruno, the easiest filter you can use to select the ideas is their strategic relevance to the business. In other words, the right idea should contribute to the organization's strategy, goals, and ambitions. “Even if an idea is the best in the world, it's unlikely to work out as expected if it doesn't relate to the organization in some ways”, adds Bruno. As an innovation leader, consider the following questions to determine the right idea worth executing:

· What is it about and who is it for?
· What's valuable about it?
· How would it contribute to the organization's strategy and ambitions?

2. Right people: what people would be the best talents with the necessary skills and expertise to execute the selected ideas in your organization? Bruno recommends being very specific when choosing individuals and avoiding listing random people. Of course, the ideas’ owner(s) must be included in this list. As an innovation leader, consider the following questions to identify the right people for the team:

· Who is the idea owner?
· What skills are needed to take the idea to the next maturity level?
· What is the smallest team required to do so?

3. Right timing: it's up to team members to scan the market and identify the signs necessary to determine whether "now" is the right time for their innovation to succeed. To do this, they must clarify what conditions need to be in place for the timing to be right. Examples of such conditions include a market downturn, the emergence of a new market entrant, a change in specific customer behavior, and so on. As an innovation team member, consider the following questions to determine if the timing is right for you:

· What would be the signs that the timing is right?
· How would we know that?
· What should we do if the time isn't right?

4. Right funding: as a final step, innovation teams must define the minimum amount of funding required to execute their ideas, which can include not only monetary terms but also a list of all necessary resources, such as permissions to start working. As an innovation team member, consider the following questions to determine the right funding you need:

· What are the minimum resource requirements to achieve the above?
· What's the smallest step that could be funded right now?
· Who would be the most fitting investor?

Final Remarks

Building viable innovation teams requires starting from the basics and considering key elements like ideas, people, timing, and funding. Although these elements may seem obvious, they are often overlooked in the corporate context. As an innovation leader, it's your responsibility to identify the best people who can pursue the most promising ideas for your organization, thereby avoiding the waste of resources and the need for rework down the line. Once you have the right people and ideas in place, it's important to empower your team to define the right timing and funding requirements for their innovations. Doing so will lay a solid foundation for corporate innovation success.

Ultimately, this all boils down to opportunity cost, which is the value of the next best alternative forgone when a choice is made. In the context of innovation teams, opportunity cost refers to the value of resources that could have been allocated to another project or initiative. Therefore, investing in an innovation team that lacks one or more of the four key basic elements – right people, idea, timing, and funding – can result in a significant opportunity cost for the organization.

For example, if an innovation team is given a promising idea but the team members lack the necessary skills, they may not be able to execute the idea effectively. Similarly, even if a team possesses the right blend of talent and innovative ideas, without adequate funding or launching at an inappropriate time, they might not be able to achieve the desired outcomes. Therefore, having all four key basic elements in place will minimize the opportunity cost and increase the chances of success.