Innovation is naturally risky. We are not sure of the technology, markets, or product design – especially at the outset of a project. Then, we throw people into the mix and it might seem that we are lucky to ever see new products make it to market.
Successful innovation teams share several characteristics. Companies like Google and 3M offer unstructured time-on-the-job for individuals to pursue ideas. Other firms focus on improved project management skills to manage the scope, schedule, and budget. In my experience, it really is the people that make the difference between a successful innovation project and one that is so-so.
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Successful, high-performance teams build on a foundation of trust. Trust is essential to communication and it is communication that allows us to share ideas for new product development (NPD).
Trust means being not afraid to share an opposing view but also being open and receptive to listening to new ideas or concepts. There’s a story that President John F. Kennedy nearly went to war in Cuba over the Bay of Pigs because his advisors were afraid to offer alternate ideas. Everyone on the team, regardless of status, must trust one another in order to openly and honestly communicate.
Intellectual and Emotional Trust
For innovation teams we must manage both intellectual trust and emotional trust. Intellectual trust is established when we recognize the credentials and experience of a colleague. Knowing that a team member was an accounting degree establishes intellectual trust that he can conduct the financial analysis accurately.
Emotional trust, on the other hand, is established when we know someone else will support our position and stand up for us. We can only build emotional trust when we have built relationships with others. It is emotional trust that allows us to take risks – especially important for radical innovation.
Of course, intra-team trust is built only if the leader is trustworthy. But what makes a trustworthy leader? A person keeps her commitments, treats others fairly, and asks questions makes a good leader. My philosophy as a first-time pilot plant supervisor was that I’d never ask my technicians to do something I wouldn’t do. That included staying after hours (even though I was salaried and they were paid hourly). It meant watching gauges and monitoring process variables in the sweltering heat or cold, rainy winters of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It meant building a relationship and building emotional trust.
Successful innovations often follow a tortuous path of development – starting with one technology and target market and ending with different technical specifications and customers. While it might feel chaotic to change direction in the middle of a project, the best innovation leaders and teams draw stability from processes throughout the NPD life cycle. Understanding the mission and strategy of the project is foundational to success.
Senior executives and project leaders demonstrate trust during a project by offering tools for stability. Project team members should be aware of expectations in their work assignments, anticipated deadlines and milestones, and follow standardized design and development processes. By establishing stable and predictable steps in the innovation process, leaders demonstrated capability to build relationships and emotional trust.
Trust for Innovation Teams
Innovation teams need foundational trust to create risky new technologies and products. Without trust, organizations are limited to incremental innovations that suffer from intense competition and low profit margins. Accepting risk, by building trust within a team, leads to more radical innovations and longer-term profitability.
Intellectual trust is enough if you want to fight competitors on the incremental innovation front. But, to take new risks, teams need to build cohesive teams founded on emotional trust. Leaders demonstrate the characteristics for successful NPD by being open and honest in communication, treating all stakeholders fairly, and listening to all perspectives. Furthermore, leaders generate a trustworthy reputation by providing stability and predictability for the team. Creating a project charter with roles and responsibilities, deadlines, and expectations allows a risky innovation project to follow a more predictable path to commercialization.
There are lots of ways to learn more about building successful teams and leaders for innovation. Here are few. Give me a call at area code 281 phone 280.8717 for more information or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your innovation journey!
- New Product Development Best Practice Workshop
- Building Cross-Functional Teams
- Innovation Master Mind
- Virtual Team Training
- Individual Coaching (please call)
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 2 is 28 August at 12:00 noon CDT covering Steps 3 through 5 in the process: team processes, team charters, and virtual teams. If you missed Part 1 (self-awareness and team trust), please join us on 6 September 2019.
Learn firsthand how establishing trust can improve cross-functional NPD team effectiveness. REGISTER NOW – spaces are filling fast!
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