There is no question the innovation is hard work! It is challenging to identify and create technical solutions to solve customers’ problems. It is even more challenging to really identify those customer needs.
Yet, innovation and new product development (NPD) are especially fun areas in which to work. We have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in our communities, around the world, and in our workplaces. Changing for the better is a happy outcome from innovation efforts!
Innovation projects are executed by teams, usually blending a variety of functions, disciplines, and capabilities. Cross-functional skills are necessary for successful innovation since each discipline – marketing, engineering, operations – brings unique approaches to solve problems. Unfortunately, these diverse viewpoints can sometimes lead to conflict. There are two skills for innovation teams that lead to increased productivity and better outcomes: communication and chartering.
Read on or watch the short summary video here.
Communication skills can make or break the success of a team. Cross-functional teams bring together people of different backgrounds and experience and require collaboration and cohesiveness to produce results. Marketers speak a different language than engineers, and engineers use a different jargon than the suppliers and distributors.
Effective communication for a cross-functional team starts with understanding internal team needs. Using a workstyle assessment like DiSC® or Team Dimensions Profile, team members grow in self-awareness. Understanding how we tick ourselves allows us to be more receptive of unique ideas and approaches from others.
For example, a friend was going on a job interview. Understanding that she preferred action-oriented relationships that produce results quickly can help her frame responses to interview questions. Especially, in highly technical fields, people may prefer careful analysis over the speed of the response. DiSC helps team members to recognize the strengths of their preferred working style and offers a common language to adopt for increased improved communication within the team.
Projects without charters are like taking a drive without direction. My dad (a farmer at heart) always liked to drive around the countryside of our town to see how harvest was going. I found these drives boring and pointless. I had no vested interest in harvest and I did not know the farmers whose land we passed. On the other hand, as a CPA, my dad gained valuable knowledge on these drives. He had a mission and purpose.
If you don’t share the mission and purpose of the project, your innovation team members will be bored and disoriented (and may even fall asleep in the backseat!). The project charter for the innovation effort aligns the team to the strategic mission of the project. It explains why the work is important, who the customer is, how the work will be conducted, and what the expectations are for a finished product. The project charter is so important in guiding the work of a cross functional team that the Project Management Institute (PMI®) says you don’t even have a project without a charter!
Cross-Functional Team Skills
Cross-functional innovation teams become effective through a five-step process that includes:
- Team management,
- Project life cycle,
- Charter, and
- Special circumstances.
Self-awareness lays the groundwork for sharing conversations and creating open dialogue for intra- and inter-team communications. Team management builds on the trust that comes from understanding how each individual team member prefers to work and helps the team commit to goals.
Every team goes through a standard life cycle of initiating the project, building relationships, planning the work, and doing the work. Again, work style preferences and a foundation of trust support effective progress. These elements are especially important for more risky innovation efforts. And, as the life of the project advances, team processes, like the team charter keep the team on track.
Finally, innovation leaders consider special situations or circumstances for team effectiveness. For instance, virtual teams have special needs to utilize the generalist-specialist skills of the dispersed team members. NPD projects with lots of government oversight and regulatory compliance require special processes and procedures, as well.
Grow Your Team Skills
If your innovation teams suffer from a lack of open communication or are driving aimlessly you need attend our next webinar on Building Effective Cross-Functional Teams. Part 1 covers the first two steps in the team building process: self-awareness and team management. Part 2 discuss is how to capitalize on the project life cycle and ensure the project charter links the effort to your strategic mission. We also describe the Virtual Team Model so your new product development efforts can benefit from globally dispersed team members.
Space is filling fast for the Q&A webinar on Friday, 6 September 2019 at noon CDT. Register now!
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. I am an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 280-8717 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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