At HYPE Innovation, our consultancy team devotes their time to working with clients, sharing best practices, and helping to implement effective and sustainable strategies for innovation management programs. Our involvement includes training, conducting innovation program “health checks,” and developing innovation communities. Above all, we tailor our approach to each organization we work with.
We’re often tasked with helping to build the “perfect“ enterprise innovation management team. In this blog post, I’ll address the key challenges organizations face when constructing their team, including who should be part of the team, what roles they should have, and the benefits and drawbacks of different team structures. I'll introduce the key roles, discuss various team configurations for small, medium, and large organizations, and offer some clever tips and tricks.
Considerations for building a perfect innovation team
Let's get straight to the heart of today's topic: building your perfect innovation team. But what exactly is a perfect team? The answer is, of course, that it depends. Different organizations have different needs, and their core challenges tend to dictate the type of team that needs to be created. These challenges can be grouped into three main areas.
The first area is organizational complexity. It's no surprise that the larger or more complex an organization is, the more thought needs to be put into where to allocate innovation resources. In many organizations, there’s a core innovation hub — a group of people who coordinate with everyone else. But if you work for a large organization, that hub often isn't big enough to effectively coordinate with various divisions, especially when dealing with geographic dispersion, language barriers, and limited connections between different divisions. The more complex your organization is, the more resources you’re likely to need to build a sustainable and effective EIM program. So, the complexity of your organization should be the starting point when considering what kind of team to put together. I'll discuss starting points and growth curves in more detail later, as they pertain to the development of teams, even in complex organizations.
The maturity of the innovation message within an organization is the second crucial consideration. This may sound a bit grandiose, but what I mean is that if you have a successful culture of innovation and you simply want to enhance it by implementing some enterprise tools or involving more employees, that's a very different conversation compared to an organization that has never embraced systemic innovation or hasn't sought enterprise-level assistance to foster innovation. The work that needs to be done will vary significantly in these cases. It's important to carefully evaluate whether people understand what innovation means and how it should be integrated into their daily work. If there’s a lack of understanding, more resources, time, and energy will be required to establish a shared understanding. The topics focused on will also differ based on the maturity of the innovation message, and this had a direct impact on the composition of the innovation team. I’ll delve deeper into this topic as we progress.
Now, if you're aiming to build an innovative culture, it's important to keep in mind that changing culture takes time. It’s important to consider where to position the innovation team within an organization, what roles it should fulfill, and how to manage expectations. For example, we can’t expect to transform a service company that has primarily grown through mergers and acquisitions into a fully innovative culture overnight; that takes a substantial amount of time. It’s crucial to consider where to allocate resources to have the biggest impact initially and where they may evolve over time.
The ambition of the innovation program
The third significant area of consideration in terms of complexity and resource allocation is the ambition of the program. There’s a notable difference between an organization seeking relatively modest processes or tactical innovations or improvements and an organization pursuing significant, radical breakthroughs. The more incremental the goals, the quicker an innovation team can achieve success and disseminate progress.
However, if you’re aiming for a breakthrough innovation, it may take several years, and in the short term, there may be little progress to showcase. In these cases, the “adoption curve” for enterprise innovation will be slower. So it’s crucial to consider the resources required to amplify the message based on the type of innovation and the timeframe for change. If we need to move quickly, more resources may be necessary to get people on board. In a nutshell, the type and ambition of the innovation program are key factors to consider. Typically, it's advisable to start modestly and gradually scale up, mirroring this approach in the formulation of your innovation team. More on this later.
Roles within innovation teams
Now let's explore the different roles we commonly see in our clients’ and other organizations’ innovation teams. Keep in mind that different companies may use different titles for these positions.
Sponsors hold executive positions within the organization, with responsibilities at the C-suite level. They provide funding, credibility, and support to the innovation program.
Chief innovation officers
Some organizations have chief innovation officers, a role more prevalent in the US but one that’s increasingly becoming a trend globally. These individuals hold board-level responsibility for driving innovation. Many of you will have innovation managers who are similar to CIOs and are responsible for overseeing innovation initiatives, managing parts of the innovation portfolio, or even running specific campaigns.
Head of R&D
In product companies, there’s often a Research and Development (R&D) department with a head of R&D who manages a portion of the innovation portfolio. The Head of R&D plays a vital role at various stages, evaluating scientific aspects of potential innovations, trends, ideas, and business concepts.
Lead innovators are individuals who excel in their enthusiasm for the innovation process. They may take on additional responsibilities, such as facilitating workshops, moderating online events, or providing content for ideation activities. This group can be highly valuable, as they can quickly mobilize and engage wider audiences.
Evaluators play a crucial role in assessing various aspects of innovation. They evaluate scientific aspects of potential innovations, market trends, ideas, and business concepts to determine their viability and potential for success. Evaluators are typically experts in their respective fields and provide valuable insights to guide the innovation process.
Innovation advocates and champions
Spreading the word about innovation is typically carried out by advocates or a community of unpaid professionals who are passionate about innovation. These advocates share success stories, act as local representatives, and provide insights into different parts of the organization. It's important to distinguish between champions who have innovation in their job title and those who don’t. The focus should be on fulfilling the necessary tasks rather than the specific titles.
The advocate community may be the largest group among the various roles mentioned. In large, complex organizations, it can start with a small group of around 30 individuals and grow to several hundred. Each division, country, or locality may have someone responsible for innovation. Initially, it may be challenging to justify investment in this area, but utilizing volunteers as advocates can help in the early stages. Over time, the advocate community will grow organically, playing a crucial role in spreading enthusiasm for innovation from the bottom up and complementing top-down initiatives.
Communicators and marketers
The next role focuses on communication. When launching an enterprise-wide innovation program, it's helpful to have someone dedicated to positioning the program and aligning it with other organizational priorities. This role involves creating a corporate message around innovation that resonates with the organization. By showcasing innovation as something the company values, individuals may feel more confident and motivated to participate.
Launching a program with effective communication and messaging tends to yield better results, especially in the early stages. Corporate communications professionals can be invaluable in developing and disseminating the message through the appropriate channels. They can also assist in aligning the innovation program with other ongoing initiatives, such as change programs.
Innovation teams’ “jobs to be done”
To understand the key tasks and roles required to build an effective innovation team, let's focus on the "jobs to be done.". Although not all roles may be needed at all times, they each have a part to play in developing a successful program.
The key roles and associated jobs to be done include:
- Sponsorship and program credibility. This role involves providing credibility to the innovation program, often the role of a chief innovation officer or C-suite sponsor.
- Managing the innovation portfolio. This job entails overseeing the innovation portfolio and is usually carried out by an innovation manager or head of R&D, who will make decisions about which elements of the portfolio should progress.
- Evaluation and assessment. Evaluators play a vital role in assessing scientific aspects, trends, ideas, and business concepts.
These roles may be carried out by different individuals or even by teams. It isn’t necessary to have all roles active at all times; they can be deployed as needed. With an understanding of the jobs to be done, we can start formulating effective teams and aligning the roles accordingly.
Tasks and responsibilities of an effective innovation team
Linking strategy with innovation
The actual tasks involved in the innovation work can be diverse and multifaceted. They may range from creating new products or services to cost-saving initiatives and process improvements. Every aspect of the business can be a potential focus for innovation. Individuals involved in innovation need to understand the connection between their day-to-day tasks and the larger problems and objectives of the organization. C-suite sponsorship plays a vital role in establishing this linkage and ensuring that people see the relevance and importance of innovation efforts in the context of the organization's goals.
Managing innovation portfolios
Managing the innovation portfolio is another crucial aspect of building an effective innovation team. This responsibility can be carried out in different ways, depending on the organization. In product companies, it’s often the responsibility of the R&D department or the head of R&D to oversee the portfolio. However, for non-product companies or organizations with a highly decentralized structure, the ownership of innovation may be distributed among different departments and different countries. In these cases, many individuals may be responsible for managing various aspects of the innovation portfolio. Having someone who takes ownership and drives ideas from conception to implementation is essential. Without proper management and implementation, the time and effort invested in generating ideas through brainstorming sessions or design-thinking workshops can go to waste, and it may discourage future participation in innovation.
Decisions about the innovation portfolio are typically made by a group of relevant experts or stakeholders. The composition of this decision-making group can vary, and it may include community members, review committees, or individuals with budget control. The good news is that these people can be assigned on a tactical basis, meaning their involvement can be specific to the decision at hand. They don't need to be full-time decision-makers within the innovation team, which allows for efficient use of resources.
Facilitating the innovation process
The individuals who facilitate the innovation process are the heartbeat of the innovation team. They own best practices, connect different stakeholder groups across the organization, and coordinate with those who need to innovate and those who can support those needs. They play a crucial role in briefing and facilitating early-stage evaluation sessions, training advocates, and developing a community of champions. These facilitators act as connectors, ensuring that different parts of the innovation process are integrated effectively.
While the size of this facilitator group may vary depending on the organization's size and global presence, it’s beneficial to keep it relatively small. This promotes the sharing of best practices and prevents the loss of connections that can occur when roles are replicated too widely. Pragmatic decisions should be made about the number and placement of facilitators to maintain optimal effectiveness.
Developing the innovation toolkit
Another important aspect is the toolkit of innovation. This toolkit may include facilitation techniques, creativity workshops, idea campaigns, and other tools for innovation. Responsibility for managing and utilizing this toolkit can be assigned to an innovation manager or another relevant individual or team. The key is to ensure that the toolkit is used effectively, as poor application of the tools may discourage future use.
Developing and scaling innovation teams
Now let's shift our focus to team development and explore the different team structures that may emerge.
Start with small innovation or start-up teams. The personnel required at this stage are typically a campaign or innovation manager and, if applicable, individuals from the R&D department. The innovation manager takes ownership of the innovation process, either partially or in its entirety, and ensures that generated ideas have a responsible owner. Campaign managers, experienced in driving campaigns such as ideation or problem-solving, are crucial for engaging large and diverse groups of people.
If you have an R&D department, their involvement is essential, as they can use their expertise to evaluate the technical aspects of the innovations being proposed. However, you still need to allocate a responsible person or team to oversee the whole innovation program, considering that not all innovation is limited to product innovation. Process, business model, and service innovation also require guidance.
At the outset, the scope of work for this team can be limited. For larger and more radical breakthrough initiatives, additional resources and follow-up efforts may be necessary. Remember, these team structures provide a starting point, and the specific roles and responsibilities should be adapted to the unique needs and context of your organization.
Scaling up your innovation team
Scaling up an organization’s innovation efforts to an enterprise level will require additional roles and coordination with stakeholders. Incremental innovation efforts are less demanding and require less coordination compared to broader enterprise-scale initiatives. As innovation programs expand, it becomes essential to add new roles to the team to ensure sustainability and success.
One crucial addition is securing C-level sponsors, who can provide credibility and support to the innovation program. While it's ideal to have C-level support from the beginning, some organizations start with a departmental owner or a VP who takes responsibility for the program. If the program proves successful, it can then be elevated to the executive level. While having C-level sponsorship from the outset is preferable, having a senior individual managing the program's focus can still work effectively.
Expanding to a program-level team, there are additional personnel to consider. In addition to the C-level sponsor or chief innovation officer, communication professionals play a crucial role in reaching a broad audience. It's also beneficial to include innovation advocates, who can be identified through previous innovation work or who emerge as advocates through their behaviors.
Trainers can be helpful advocates, as they have the expertise to guide conversations, ask the right questions, and contribute their knowledge on specific topics. While not mandatory, including leading innovators who can provide tactical assistance and insights can also add value to the process.
Serving as a centralized body and adaptable to a range of organizational structures, this program-level team is particularly effective for running strong enterprise innovation activities within larger organizations. In organizations with multiple geographical locations, additional advocates or champions may also be necessary to ensure effective communication and information flow throughout the organization.
This type of team structure may be excessive for smaller companies with fewer than 250 employees. In such cases, having advocates and essential roles like communication professionals and innovation managers is important, but other roles can be adjusted based on the organization's scale.
Building an ecosystem-wide team
Let's move on to consider the innovation teams at the ecosystem level, typically found in large, complex organizations operating across multiple departments and geographies. At this stage, it's appropriate to expand the group of innovation champions whose innovation-related work is part of their job role. These formal advocates complement the informal advocates operating in a less structured manner.
A typical ecosystem-level team may consist of one C-level sponsor, a group of innovation managers based on the types of innovation being generated, and a community of campaign managers responsible for specific geographies or divisions.
Evaluators and lead innovators are roles that are determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, if ideas are generated in a brainstorming session, three to seven evaluators can be assigned to review the content, typically on a local basis. Lead innovators can be assigned based on the type of innovation being pursued and the need for stimulating innovative conversations. Their role is to help develop and guide those conversations during the innovation process.
In terms of innovation advocates, having a larger community is generally better, but it's important to keep in mind the challenges of coordinating and keeping such a community engaged. The size of the advocate community can vary; the largest communities typically have around 200 members. To ensure effective coordination, it's common to divide larger advocate communities into smaller groups of about 30 to 40 individuals, especially when they are spread across global locations.
Innovation champions can be seen as the professional version of advocates. They play a similar role in promoting and supporting innovation but may focus more on specific areas or domains within the organization.
In terms of communications, the level of complexity and organizational structure will determine the initial support required. Initially, someone located centrally can handle marketing-related tasks to get the message out. As the organization matures, communications may be focused on keeping people informed about ongoing innovations and progress.
Before considering external collaboration, it's crucial to establish a strong internal innovation foundation. This includes setting up the necessary processes and skills to effectively process external content. Take a crawl-walk-run approach to avoid overwhelming the organization with a high volume of potentially irrelevant external content. Additional roles to consider in external collaborations can vary significantly depending on the nature of the work and transactions involved.
Legal considerations are always important when engaging externally. It's beneficial to involve legal professionals early in the process to facilitate external conversations around innovation. They can assist in assessing existing protections, and discussing, and determining expected outcomes.
Remember, this list of roles and considerations should be adapted to your specific organization and the nature of your innovation goals.
Align roles and job responsibilities: It's important to ensure that the roles within your innovation program align with the specific tasks that need to be accomplished. Focus on assigning people to the jobs that need to be done rather than solely relying on job titles.
Start small: Beginning with a smaller innovation team is a good way to start. However, be cautious not to take on an overly ambitious program that spans numerous countries if your resources are limited. It's better to start in a more modest manner and gradually expand as you achieve success.
Increase resources based on success: Instead of starting with a large enterprise-scale innovation team, it's more effective to add new team members based on the success and outcomes of your initial efforts. This approach helps to bring people on board and secure additional resources in a more gradual and efficient manner.
Examples of extra roles: If you're looking to engage with the outside world, various roles such as legal, procurement, customer or consumer insights, marketing, and sales may become important depending on your specific goals and industry. Don't overlook the expertise and support available externally.