As much as corporate leaders talk about the importance of innovation, they still complain about a lack of results. Innovation is not magical nor is it easy. Successful new product development (NPD) relies on deploying the right technology at the right time into the right market segment. Complicating the situation even more is that you count on effective, cross-functional teams to ideate, design, develop, and sell the new products. Yet building productive innovation teams requires leadership skills and temperance.
Of course, lots of managers think that teamwork is easy – just pull together a group of people, tell them what to do, and then sit back waiting for the results. Unfortunately, most of us have learned it’s not so easy to build and sustain effective, cross-functional innovation teams. Let’s look at some myths of team building and how you can invert these assumptions to accelerate your innovation programs.
Myth #1 – All Engineers are the Same
Or we could say all designers are the same and all marketers are the same and all salespeople are the same. This myth is busted as soon as you consider your work colleagues on your existing and previous NPD teams. We all know engineers who are extraverts, designers who are methodical, marketers who are analytical, and salespeople who are quiet and reserved.
One way to better understand the work styles of your teammates and to build open communication is through the DiSC® Workplace assessment. DiSC identifies a preferred work style for each team member: dominant, influential, supportive, or conscientious. While many engineers have a conscientious work style – with a preference for analytical, “heads-down” work – others are also dominant, influencing, and supportive. The same goes for designers, marketers, and salespeople.
When your team completes a DiSC assessment, it opens new conversations and builds camaraderie among the team members. As an innovation team leader, you can match tasks and activities to the work style preferences of your team members. When team members understand what drives motivation for others, productivity improves. And when productivity improves, new products get to market faster spurring profitability.
Myth #2 – Everyone is Equal
Another assumption I see in my work with innovation teams is that managers assume everyone is equal. As a Christian and as an American, I do believe everyone has equal opportunity, but not everyone has equal skill, nor should we populate an innovation team in exact percentages.
Sometimes, managers make the assumption that if there are 100 hours of project work, then each of the five team members needs to 20 hours of work. Unfortunately, this situation is exacerbated by Myth #1 so that all the R&D work is assumed to be done by engineers and all of the marketing work to be done by the marketing department.
Cross-functional teams increase the go to market rate and profitability of new products because the team members are not equal. Each individual brings his or her own experiences to the team. These experiences include successful and failed product launches in similar product categories, global customer knowledge, and lessons learned.
The Team Dimensions Profile model teaches us that innovation projects go through stages of initiation, selling the idea, organizing for implementation, and actually designing and building the new product. We rely more heavily on creative personalities to generate ideas at the front-end and more analytical work styles to organize and execute the project tasks near the back-end. Cross-functional team members will find that as they understand which team members are “idea people” and which are “executors”, they will work together more effectively.
Moreover, using a common vocabulary of our work style preferences can help moderate the pace of work. Creators are tasked to a higher degree when an NPD project is initiated but need to tamp down their style when operations and manufacturing decisions are made. Understanding how each team member is unique – and not equal – enhances communication and improves the quality of new product delivery.
Myth #3 – Teams Don’t Change
Unfortunately, I’ve met some very cynical managers in my time. They assume that they’ve been saddled with a group of people to do work and that no one can change. Carol Dweck describes this as a fixed mindset. (Read my book review of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” here.)
The fixed mindset assumes talent is given at birth and cannot ever change. Knowledge is like a reservoir that empties over time and cannot be refilled. In contrast, a growth mindset is one that cheers on failure for the sake of learning and praises baby steps because those baby steps will become leaps of knowledge in the future. Great innovation leaders exhibit the growth mindset and challenge teams to find new ways of working. One model of building effective, cross-functional teams is through the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team®.
In Five Behaviors, team members assess their levels of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. They learn how their work styles influence their responses in different team situations and how to manage conflict in a healthy way. Applying a growth mindset, teams learn new ways to commit to project goals and to achieve mutual accountability. And over time, the needle moves on trust to demonstrate the building of an effective team innovation team.
How Do You Bust Team Myths?
Innovation is critical to the success of every business. The product life cycle is shrinking so that companies need to launch more and better products faster just to keep pace with global competition. But managers often fail to build the appropriate infrastructure to support and nurture NPD teams.
First, job titles are not reflective of a team member’s work style. Use a DiSC assessment to understand and share work style preferences. Team members learn new skills and can adapt to situations across the NPD life cycle better as they begin to understand each other at a deeper level.
Next, everyone is not equal at all times on every project. Successful innovation teams capitalize on different skills at various points in the NPD process. Creators are great at brainstorming ideas, advancers can sell the concept to executives and customers, refiners analyze and organize relevant processes, and executors design and build the new product. Each unique team member contributes to the project based on his or her experiences in life lessons. The Team Dimensions Profile helps the team recognize how each person can excel and help each other during the different stages of the product development life cycle.
Finally, people can change and want to grow and learn. A fixed mindset will doom any innovation project to failure. Instead, adopting a growth mindset and teaching the team about trust, conflict, and accountability will build cohesiveness, yielding tangible financial results.
Act now to improve the effectiveness of your cross-functional innovation teams. Space is limited in our complimentary Q&A webinars on Building Effective Cross-Functional NPD Teams. Part 1 is 31 July at 12:00 noon CDT covering Steps 1 and 2 in the process: team member self-awareness and managing team behaviors. Part 2 is 28 August at 12:00 noon CDT covering Steps 3 through 5 in the process: team processes, team charters, and virtual teams. You will be automatically registered for Part 2 when you register for Part 1. Anyone who attends the Q&A webinar will have access to your choice of work style assessment (DiSC, Five Behaviors, or Team Dimensions).
Learn firsthand how applying a growth mindset can improve cross-functional NPD team effectiveness. REGISTER NOW – spaces are filling fast!
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