“Who should be on our innovation team?”

Unfortunately, innovators, especially those able to succeed in a corporate setting, rarely announce themselves with the fanfare they deserve (And if they do, run away.  Trust me.)

Where to Start

You know that you need a multi-functional team to ensure diversity of experience and expertise.  But beyond that, every other option is rife with trade-offs

  • High performers have loads of credibility in the organization, but they may be hesitant to question the status quo and struggle with ambiguity
  • Squeaky wheels are comfortable challenging the status quo but may not have the organizational clout and goodwill to get things done
  • New hires bring a fresh perspective but don’t have the relationships and political savvy to navigate the organization
  • Independent contributors have domain expertise but may not be able to think beyond their domain or work well in a team environment

Your instincts are right. These people could be incredible additions to an innovation team but you need to diagnose the motivation, the Why, behind their actions.

How to Succeed

Just as identifying and understanding your consumers’ or customers’ Jobs to be Done is essential to growing your business, identifying and understanding employees’ Jobs to be Done is essential to building your innovation team.

The successful innovation teams I’ve worked with all have people who fill these roles:

  • Reformer – This person wants to do the best they can and support teammates to achieve the same.  You can find them by looking for the person who always says, “We can do better,” never meaning it as a critique but rather as a genuine desire to achieve the team and the company’s full potential. 
  • Rebel – This person also wants the company to live up to its potential but isn’t willing to accept “better.”  They want the best.   To find rebels, look for the people asking “Why?” refusing to accept “because that’s how we do it,” and annoying more than a few people in their periphery.  To find the rebels that will propel your innovation team to success, look for those whose past successes and strong relationships have earned them the freedom to be the squeaky wheel.
  • Realist – This person who takes pride in making things happen, especially if it requires a bit of creativity along the way.  They know just how far and just how hard to push before everything breaks, how to navigate the organization, which ears to whisper into, how to challenge people without alienating them, and which battles to fight and which to fight another day.  They’re willing to be patient and play the long as long as the successful change is in sight.
  • Responder – This person takes pride in making things happen together, not only as a small team but with the broader organization.  They learned from experience that it doesn’t matter how brilliant something is if leadership doesn’t support it.  They carefully craft the team’s agenda to be the organization’s agenda.  They pull people in as advisors and thought partners.  They listen to feedback, finding ways to accept it or explaining why rejecting it is in the company’s best interest. 

Sometimes one person can play many of these roles, and sometimes these roles must be played by four different people.  The key is finding people with the deeply held Jobs to be Done that motivate them to act in ways that will unite the innovation team, accelerate its work, and enable it to achieve real success – growth and more revenue for your company.