3 Ways to Improve Team Innovation

The most powerful innovation comes when teams work together. Driving innovation means getting individual employees to be more innovative, but it also means getting high performance teams to innovate. How you form those teams will have a huge impact on their success. Here’s how to create what I call innovation dream teams.

First and most important is to create a diverse team. Diversity helps people see more possibilities. It creates a stronger sense of group accountability. Diverse groups cause people to bring their best thinking, to behave properly, and to maintain their status in the group as a positive contributor. You want diversity in three ways: functional, gender, and cultural.

Functional diversity means that team members come from different parts of the company and with different experience levels. Include co-workers from marketing, from your technical team, and from your sales or customer support team. At times, you may want to include colleagues with financial skills or regulatory knowledge. Taken together, you want the right people in the room who can generate ideas, and decide which ideas are the best and most feasible. That takes a team of people with different skills and knowledge.

You also need a team with good gender diversity. Research suggests men tend to create more aggressive ideas while women are more pragmatic. Working together averages out these tendencies to produce novel and practical solutions. Without gender diversity, your team may end up producing a larger share of uninteresting or unsupportable concepts.

Finally is cultural diversity.  The best teams have members with different ethnic backgrounds. They broaden the team’s perspective on how best to commercialize new inventions on a global scale. Without this, teams produce a larger share of niche ideas that may satisfy only one regional market.

Now here’s some tips.

  • Keep the group size at twelve or less. Any larger than that becomes hard to facilitate.
  • Use systematic methods of innovation. Avoid unstructured methods like Brainstorming. Years of scientific research shows it’s not effective.
  • Consider using a professional facilitator, someone internal or external who has the experience to keep the group working at a high level.

Innovation is a team sport. The best CMOs leverage high functioning teams to create opportunity.