12 qualities of a successful innovation team

by Akbar Jaffer
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characteristics of a successful innovation team

characteristics of a successful innovation teamIn the very first article I wrote about what it takes to innovate successfully standing at the corner of technology and humanities. In this article I will explore one of those foundational factors; the team. Many leading organizations hire super smart people. People with educational credentials, patents, and great relevant experiences under their belt. So what is so special about that unique team that consistently innovates ahead of its competition?

Take any endeavor or project in any line of work, it is always the people or the team that makes all the difference. From climbing K2, inventing a new kind of car, to running a company – its all about the people. So what makes for a successful innovating team? Here are 12 qualities of a successful innovation team.

  1. Hiring process

    Well-defined and consistent hiring process with standardized tests, feedback from an evaluation committee, analysis of past work, reference checks among other things will ensure you have only A-players on your innovation team.

  2. Leadership

    Everyone on the team is a leader in their right and brings something special to the team. However at the end of the day one person must be the ultimate decision maker for the whole team. This person’s job is the solicit advise from everyone on the team, consider the facts, do a gut-check and make the final call that the entire team rallies behind.

  3. Formal education

    Its absolutely critical that ever member of the innovation team has advanced formal education. It brings credibility to the process and helps reduce rookie mistakes with tried and tested frameworks, templates, rules, and principles.

  4. Opportunistic mindset

    A-team members are never satisfied with the status quo. They believe that ‘just because it isn’t broken doesn’t mean its working optimally.’ They can easily identify gaps in the solutions or markets. They are more alert to the opportunities in entrepreneurship and innovation. Opportunists are genetically pre-wired for novelty: they crave new and complex experiences and seek variety in all aspects of life.

  5. Energetic and persistence

    A winning innovation team is highly resilient and doesn’t ever give up. Failure only motivates them more. You tell them that something can’t be done or that they won’t be able to do something and they will prove you wrong. They generally have little regard for rules and they frequently break them.

  6. Discipline

    A-players are typically very organized and methodical in their approach to everything. They are also very strict in maintaining a set schedule and processes. Team members never miss a meeting and always come prepared. Also, contrary to popular belief, they are very risk-averse. Although higher risk-taking is linked to business formation, it is not actually linked to business success.

  7. Respect

    Many times team members disagree with each other. As a matter of fact with A-team members there are always sparks flying because everyone is so passionate about the project.  But they never stop respecting each other and their expertise.

  8. Ruthless honesty and a very high bar for success

    Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, “… we must choose between what’s right and what’s easy.” Mediocrity is not an option. Cutting corners or letting budget compromise your product or determine your product roadmap is the sign of defeat.  The team is also brutally honest with each other and there is absolutely no compromising of standards. Its never done until its perfect.

  9. 360-degree performance feedback

    Professional development must go hand in hand even for a high calibre A-team of over-achievers. Real-time feedback from every member of the team that you work with is vital. This allows for keeping the team optimized at all times.

  10. Multi-Discipline skills and perspectives

    Perhaps the most vital ingredient in a successful innovation team is that each member brings expertise in multiple disciplines to the table. For example doctors, sports medicine experts, and athletes consulted the Apple Watch project team.  National Center for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and NASA are other great examples of organizations where multi-discipline research for products and solutions takes place.

  11. Core values

    Every successful innovation team establishes core values that they abide by. These are developed by the team, agreed upon, and followed every day. In addition to some of the characteristics discussed in this article, core values that guide innovation teams also include bias for execution, making decisions and then course correcting if needed, failures and mistakes are welcome, never making the same mistake twice, and pushing the boundaries.

  12. Network and social capital

    This is what I call the support system. No innovation team can be successful if it operates in isolation. As a matter of fact the innovation team understands that their very success is dependent upon the support system they build around them. The strength of the professional and personal network as well as their social capital within that network is paramount to the success of an innovation team.


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