Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 5 – collaborative innovation and the innovation team

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 2, 2015

This is my fifth installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-4.)

In the most recent postings to this series, I have been discussion innovation in a business from the perspective of the single, lone innovator and their direct manager as a simplest-case “team” scenario (see Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.) And I have been at least noting throughout this that I would turn next to consider larger and more diversely sourced innovative teams too:

• Whether self-assembled to address an emerging innovative opportunity that emerges from within their group (assembled from within the group), or
• Assembled under the guidance and direction of a manager or administrator as a more contrived business initiative (assembled from outside of the group.)

There are obvious sources of potential difference between these two scenarios that only begin with the types of innovative initiative that would be envisioned and worked upon. Self-assembled innovation teams tend to find and work on opportunities that do not simply, directly fit into the current business strategy with its already considered timelines for what would be worked upon and with what priorities. Teams assembled by the business and from outside of these work groups themselves are much more likely to be set up as initiatives for achieving already pre-planned and evaluated goals and objectives that fit into already-discussed and approved strategic frameworks.

It can also be noted that:

• Self-assembled teams are most likely to consist of groups of individual employees who self-select for being comfortable and familiar working together and who start out knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They do not need to get to know each other and who to turn to in their group for specific forms of skill or insight – which might or might not always clearly connect with their current workplace assignments.
• Outside assembled teams can bring people together from diverse and even more conventionally disconnected parts of the organization, who have skill and experience combinations that team members would not necessarily know how to find in-house, at least in potentially available in-house team members.
• I have written in this blog about web 2.0 intranets and related in-house social media resources and how they can help employees find each other across table of organization barriers (see for example, Connecting an Organization Together, Version 2.0 and Creating Value from Constructive Conflict 2: thinking through the creative commons as a practical, effective business resource.) But when an organization becomes sufficiently large, bringing additional eyes, ears and minds into an innovation team development process can help improve the odds that the right people be found, and particularly when looking for rare skill and experience combinations that might not be easy to search for on, for example, an in-house member profile based social networking site, or when highly confidential or classified work or work experience might be called for.

But these and similar differences aside, there are also some crucial points of similarity that can arise as issues for innovative teams and regardless of how they are assembled or by whom. And one of the most crucial of these more commonly shared points is that:

• When an innovation team calls for input and contribution from members who collectively have a wide range of skills and experience, and certainly when this would mean drawing from across lines of the table of organization,
• Team assembly and the demands of effective team participation can create real friction between managers who see themselves as losing members of their direct report teams
• And with need for resolving that type of conflict creating new work for higher level managers going up the table of organization – at least as a worst case scenario.

As a perhaps obvious example of how that can happen, consider a situation where one or more of the proposed members of an innovation team have special skills or experience that are in limited supply in the business but that are also in very high demand. And consider as a case in point, a proposed and demanded team member who has skills that are also difficult to find in available job market candidates as new potential hires, or who would need a deep familiarity with that business and its operations in order to succeed in this team, or both. Simply going outside of the organization to bring in a new high-demand skills employee might not be feasible at least on a short enough timeframe, where even if a good candidate could be found, they would still have to come up to speed for the specific and even perhaps idiosyncratic workplace history-based details of that business and its operations and systems.

So a crucial-needs team member is probably going to have to work part time on more than one set of task responsibilities and for more than one manager. But this only points out one possible direction that a proposed resolution to this type of set of issues might come from. This is a place where an effective contribution from a strategically oriented Human Resources manager can offer real value, as a third party mediator who is not directly involved and who would not appear to be a partisan in this negotiating process, or be tainted by any biases going into it.

• But let’s assume that a team can come together and by whichever of the two basic routes that I have been discussing here (e.g. assembled from within or from the outside),
• And with managers involved reaching a point in their discussions where they can all sign off on this endeavor,
• And with an agreed to timeframe established for the project that this team would work on,
• And with mutually understood levels of time commitment and participation agreed to within that overall project timeframe for team members,
• And with a communications channel in place for jointly managing schedule changes or slippage.

This might be achieved more institutionally and by more standard employee and work team processes, as for example discussed in Intentional Management 3: the matrix management model and its variations. Or this might be achieved on a more ad hoc basis.

• Ad hoc here means one-off and that means next innovation team-based initiatives are going to as difficult as any first try at this type of endeavor was – or worse depending on precise circumstances.
• When this is managed, and I use that word loosely here, ad hoc, real learning curves for doing this type of thing more smoothly the next time, and for more effectively capturing developable opportunity are much more difficult to achieve, and any learning curves that are achieved do not diffuse out through the organization as a whole.
• Systematic approaches make learning curve and process improvement curves both more possible and more widely knowable and usable throughout the organization – making that organization as a whole more nimble in the face of potential innovation opportunity.

And up to here I have been writing about in-house sourced innovation, and innovation that is organized and developed through more conventional direct contact communications at that. I am going to turn in my next installment to consider crowd sourcing as a source of innovative insight:

• And as this can be developed and capitalized on both within the organization,
• And from the outside of it.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.


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