Team culture makes all the difference to forwarding innovations. Learn about the six magic keys. Team culture makes all the difference to forwarding innovations. Learn about the six magic keys.

6 Magic Keys to Successful Innovation for Your Teams

Team culture makes all the difference to advancing innovations. Learn about the six magic keys.
6 mins read

Neither the idea nor the strategy decides on the success or failure of innovation projects. There are many ideas and strategies. However, it is important that both idea and strategy develop positively and quickly. This is what good teams do.

Good teams are the key to solving the challenges of our time. Even celebrated founders like Steve Jobs, Jeff Besoz and Elon Musk would be nothing without the teams that worked and work on the important issues.

But is it enough to consider appointing a multidisciplinary team with one goal and one budget? Unfortunately, this approach is the standard rather than the exception. Purely soberly speaking, it should be enough from the perspective of the business unit manager. The seats in the bus are fully occupied, the driver is empowered, the tank is full and off we go...

Is that enough?

Projects with innovation character are different from routine projects. There is much that is new and unknown. This has to be explored, learned, conquered or mastered. Can you manage this if you use old recipes?

You already suspect it, forwarding innovation in a team that is managed like a normal working group is impossible. It needs something more. These six magic keys lead to the necessary team culture:

1. The burning desire for innovation

Task, goal, salary, employment contract or not. All well and good. It's all there. A challenging task is motivating in itself and offers the opportunity for personal growth.

The team gets its first extra kick of motivation when it knows what contribution it is making to customers and the organisation through innovation.

The team gets the second extra kick of motivation when it also sees a benefit for other representatives or the society.

The team gets the third extra motivation when the innovation idea is in line with the identity (self-image) of the organization.

The team gets the special extra motivation when it manages to establish a narrative in harmony with the identity, which provides an incentive for the innovation. For example, a narrative such as "taking a man safely to the moon and back", as it inspired many people in the 1960s, was clear, memorable, challenging and significant in the face of Russian space activities.

As a sponsor of the innovation project, it is therefore important to develop these points with the team. Explain to the team what an innovation is and when it is not in line with the company's purpose. Also give the team room to make their own projections. This creates an early connection with the idea.

Also explain what challenges you see. And that you do not know all the answers. The answers can only be found out together.

These two points create a frame that provides more psychological safety. The team knows that it can discuss with you if there are critical issues.

2. Learning + tolerance for failures

The team has to try things out and learn. Talk about how this is going to happen at the beginning. What simple processes will there be? How will transparency be increased and subjectivity reduced with data? How will learning effects be shared?

In the context of learning, failures inevitably occur. Avoidable (because predictable or repeated) failures should be reduced to a minimum. Intelligent failures, i.e. experiments with an open outcome to gain knowledge, are desirable.

Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Studios, writes that all movies are rubbish in the beginning [1]. Through a feedback process in so-called "braintrust meetings" the "creative" quality is induced. The suggestions from these feedbacks do not have to be implemented. However, the films must improve over time. Therefore, if a director of a film cannot show improvement after three months, the director will be replaced. The standstill in development is an avoidable mistake.

3. Disciplined experimentation

In good teams, learning and experimenting follow a logic: the important goals of the project must be addressed and at the same time risks must be systematically reduced. This requires discipline and rigor. What experiments are carried out? What assumptions are put into it? What outcome is expected? What measurements are there? How are measurements made? How are measurement errors, distortions or subjectivity eliminated? How can many relevant experiments be performed in a short time? How is transparency about the status and results achieved?

Here you can learn a lot from start-ups that quickly drill into the market. Instead of investing in content marketing, branding, networking, advertising or similar to build long-term relationships with customers, some start-ups are looking for customers who respond to certain "messages" and show both immediate demand and immediate willingness to buy. The sales funnel is consistently streamlined and shortened based on data. The customer acquisition process is radically accelerated. This keeps acquisition costs low and enables rapid growth. It is a repeatable process that reduces uncertainty.

4. Safety and Openness

If team members are reluctant to share thoughts, ideas, concerns, observations, the team can neither find the best solution nor become better itself. Safety and openness are a basic requirement.

With new team members, natural risk aversion and restraint strikes. This has to be intercepted from the very beginning.

For example, Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, did a lot of work before his trip to the Mir space station to get to know team members from different countries as well as team members getting to know each other [2]. He even moved to Russia and the USA to be close to the astronauts and their families. The crew members simulated all kinds of critical situations in role-plays. He made sure that the crew members knew how to react in special situations or how to support each other.

You don't have to do this to the same extent for every project, but a team event (archery, dragon boating or climbing or similar) is not enough to build solid bridges between the team members.

5. Cooperation and individual commitment

It is clear that the team only works if it "works together". Cooperation is reflected in the frequency and intensity of communication between the team members. It is also reflected in the acceptance of work packages and the reliability of their processing.

In many software companies, or at Pixar, there are the Daily Huddles, a very short daily meeting to update on progress and priorities for the day.

As a team leader you pay attention to the communication patterns. Are there team members who say little? This can indicate problems. If there is an open, sometimes emotionally heated discussion about topics (not people), this is a signal that real solutions are being sought.

6. Support from above

To make decisions quickly, a lot of autonomy and support from the sponsor is needed. Decision-making processes across stages slow down the innovation efforts. If it is really important for the company, the sponsor should have a large part of its calendar available for innovation.

As a sponsor, in addition to repeatedly illustrating the meaning, purpose and benefits to customers and others, it is important to support the reduction of risks and to define the framework for success and failure. It is also important to celebrate success and to feel to be part of the team.

These are the six magic keys. Perhaps with these keys you will succeed even better in your next innovation project.

I know it is often difficult to use all these keys. But if you want to be successful in the future, invest in your teams and team culture!


[1] Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc

[2] Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth



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