By forming dedicated innovation teams, companies in all industries can create new and exciting opportunities without sacrificing their growth potential.
When it comes to innovation, businesses often face a Catch-22 situation. They must be innovative in order to grow, but that same innovation becomes far more difficult as they grow.
Innovation comes more naturally for startups, which often ask employees to fill multiple roles. But as a company grows, those employees burrow into silos that prevent them from seeing the big picture or taking advantage of new technologies. As businesses become increasingly complex because of mergers and acquisitions, technology fragmentation, and pressure from startups, their workforce becomes more limited.
So how can a business cultivate and maintain an innovative culture as it grows? The solution is building and integrating an innovation team within the company. Assembling a well-rounded team — focused on creating new and unique practices — puts innovation in place to succeed.
Enterprise companies may have larger budgets for innovation, but that money doesn’t compensate for a lack of innovative talent. Many teams lack the technological experience necessary to create useful solutions — and the executives who oversee them are often wary of new processes.
When many of today’s top executives were in business school, innovation wasn’t a significant part of their educations. They learned to solve problems, but nobody taught them how to innovate. Without their support, however, potentially innovative projects will never come to fruition.
Purchasing new technology makes more sense to business leaders who might lack confidence in or an understanding of the innovation process. When solutions are not obvious from within, businesses are more likely to leverage outside vendors. This is why we see enterprises purchase startups at a rapid pace, such as IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat Inc.
Without innovative expertise, companies fail to discover and develop new ideas. Some teams get stuck in ambitious projects, which curtail innovation in favor of short-term successes. Projects that have an immediate impact, though, boost confidence in the C-suite to allocate more funds to the innovation team.
Implementing an innovation team will build organizational confidence while creating solutions that benefit the company and the customer. Here are four strategies to help build an innovation team in your company:
Before any innovation takes place, there has to be an infrastructure to support it. Target’s innovation teams, for instance, try to strike a balance between internal recruits who are familiar with the company and external hires who have experience in innovation, entrepreneurship, and design.
Make sure your team has a good mix of business- and technology-savvy employees. They must be able to learn and listen to the needs of the business unit and identify ways to enhance its efficiency and success.
Employees who are true students of the business — people who know their customers’ needs and stay up to date on the latest technologies — make up the best innovation team.
Realize that innovation begins with people who have worked in all areas of the business. It also doesn't depend on high-ranking executives. Find people, no matter their job titles, who can recognize and grow opportunities.
Look for people who would rather work at problems and provide solutions than stay in their silos. Find a team leader who will encourage employees to think beyond the development of new products and look for bottom-up innovation across the four Ps: profit models, processes, products, and policies.
Microsoft’s innovation team encourages other employees to participate in product, business model, and policy innovation. Since moving beyond its traditional product focus, Microsoft's innovation efforts have led the company in new and exciting directions.
Companies with policies that encourage the retention and promotion of workers regardless of race, sexual orientation, and gender are often more innovative and release more products.
Find people who see things differently — you should never assemble a team made up of carbon copies of yourself. Recruit people from different generations, backgrounds, and cultures with different ideas on what problems need to be solved and how to solve them.
Building innovation teams can be difficult for growing companies. But it’s worth investing the time and energy to create a team that will give your business an edge. Forming teams that are properly integrated with your company and its goals will lead to long-term health and growth.
Sean Caputo is the co-founder and chief strategy officer at Augusta HiTech, a consulting firm that works with social-impact focused partners on improving their product development, software, and technological services. Caputo believes that “urgency goes in waves,” a motto that informs his passion for providing socially responsible clients with real-time, on-the-go customer insight resources to implement into their overall strategies and have a more lasting impact. Prior to Augusta, Caputo was the founder and chairman of the board at Smart Engagement Inc. He currently serves in the same capacity at 420 Blockchain Inc., is an entrepreneur-in-residence at Vonzo Partners Venture Capital, and is an advisor at SmartChain Media. He resides in Boca Raton, Florida.