We work in teams because teams accomplish more, have higher creativity, and bring more satisfaction to workers. However, since we work in groups so often, we often fail to build teams for success. In innovation and product development, teams are cross-functional and must work across differences of jargon and traditions to be successful.
Watch the short video summary below (less than 1 minute) then continue reading to learn more.
In my work to improve innovation effectiveness, I have observed four traits that make teams successful.
- Shared values
Keep in mind that new product development (NPD) teams are – by definition – tackling projects with high degrees of uncertainty. Accepting risk is foundational to gaining knowledge and generating cohesion for a product development team.
Let’s look at each element of teamwork in turn.
Trust is crucial to any relationship. A lack of trust destroys friendships, marriages, and business partnerships. One reason I use Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™” in my practice is because he starts team-building with trust.
Trust is a component of autonomy which is one of the five core philosophies in WAGILE product development (read more here). In training, I frequently ask people what autonomy means, and they tell me “trust”. In innovation teams, we engender trust and autonomy when team members have both responsibility and authority to accomplish tasks that fall within their expertise.
Can you describe a team where you worked with high levels of trust?
Dictionary.com defines motivation as “having a strong reason to act or accomplish something.” Innovation teams that are successful are motivated. They share common goals and objectives with an overwhelming desire to see an idea transformed into a tangible product. They are collectively motivated to serve customer needs, enlarge the technology, and expand the knowledge base.
One team on which I worked years ago was highly motivated to solve the problem. The science was interesting, and the plant was losing millions of dollars per day. Each team member had different background and experience. Our meetings were vibrant, and we freely exchanged ideas to solve the problem.
Our motivation to learn – expand the knowledge base – was also high. Most of us worked long hours to test theories in the lab and to gather new data. We had a strong desire to act and to accomplish something. We also had a strong desire to see results and measure success.
Another element of an effective innovation team is shared values. Shared values for team success are discussed at length in my chapter on Bridging Communication Gaps in PDMA Essentials Volume 3. Shared values – a common mission – binds a team together. Cohesive teams perform at higher levels and are able to speed the innovation process.
In WAGILE product development, we discuss four roles – one of which is a cross-functional team. Like a Scrum team, the WAGILE team is composed of generalist-specialists. Each individual has depth of experience and knowledge to serve as a “specialist”. Each is also a “generalist” meaning that they are willing to learn and take on expanded roles. Accepting risk and uncertainty is a shared value of innovation teams.
Each of us working on the trouble-shooting team described earlier, were not only motivated to solve the problem, but we also shared a desire to learn. Some team members were experts in plant operations, others in analytical tools (specialists). All of us pitched in where we were needed to speed the project (generalists). With diverse backgrounds and a willingness to learn, innovation risks are minimized while product success is maximized.
Finally, successful innovation teams follow a process. Today most organizations have established a formal NPD process to transform ideas into concepts, concepts into prototypes, and prototypes into commercial products. The NPD process guides team activities, providing focus on market opportunities, customer needs, and technology development at the right level and at the right time.
Contrary to popular belief, processes improve the creativity of teams and enhance relationships. Consider this: Do you have a reserved spot to place your keys every day? And what happens if you do not put your keys in the same spot? Chaos ensues. You will search and search. You waste time seeking something that should have been known. And you increase risk as you might be late for a meeting as you search for your keys.
The same thing happens to teams without a process. Innovation is scattered and chaotic. Product delivery to the market is late. Knowledge is not gained but re-hashed in a continuous search for the “right” answer. Processes streamline activities and parse an overwhelming project into manageable tasks.
Do you have an innovation process?
Elements of Successful Innovation Teams
We all know that innovation is risky. Great teams can overcome uncertainty in product development and accelerate speed-to-market. The characteristics of great innovation teams are:
- Trust (an ability to act autonomously),
- Motivation (a desire to accomplish something),
- Shared values (common goals and mission), and
- Process (a structured NPD system).
Learn more about building a successful NPD team at any of these upcoming events.
- Innovation Best Practice and NPDP Workshop starting 2 June 2021 (online)
- WAGILE Product Development Workshop starting 25 May 2021 (online)
- PDMA Process Workshop starting 17 June 2021 (online)
© Global NP Solutions, LLC
Building Innovation Leaders