Innovation Hints.

Managing for Innovation

  • How can I create a successful innovation team?

    Research shows that how innovation teams are put together, and the types of people on them, play a major role in increasing or decreasing the probability that the team will develop successful innovations, whether products or processes.

  • How large should an innovation team be?

     Ideally, 5-7 people; no more than 12.

    • The team needs to be large enough to have the expertise and buy-in needed.
    • Teams that become too large become dysfunctional.
      • Factions develop
      • Some individuals will be silenced so their contribution is lost
  • How should I decide who to invite to be on the team?

    • Membership should be boundary spanning:
      • People from different departments.
      • People from different professions or areas of expertise; different skill sets.
      • People from different levels in the organisation, including positions of lower seniority and authority.
    • The team should not include senior executives and managers.
      • The presence of senior managers on the team will cause team members to self-censor ideas that the managers present might find threatening or distasteful.
      • The manager’s views will dominate the discussion from habit and deference.
      • A full range of ideas and options will not be generated and freely discussed and explored.
    • Membership should be diverse.
      • Diverse members bring different ideas and perspectives and are more likely to successfully identify potential problems. Select members from different:
        • Cultures.
        • Ethnicities.
        • Genders.
        • Ages.
        • Perspectives.
    • Membership should include younger people, and people who are newer in their careers.
      • Younger people tend to be more open to new ideas and find them easier to adopt, than older people.
      • Innovation teams need members who have some professional knowledge and expertise, but not too much knowledge and expertise.
      • Older and very experienced people tend to be too deeply trained and socialized into “how it’s done” and “what we know” to easily think in completely new ways or consider truly radical new ideas.
    • Members should be people who will be listened to and respected by management and colleagues.
      • Social and professional opinion leaders in the organisation.
      • This is important to being able to get management to implement the ideas that result.
      • This is important to being able to get staff and colleagues to adopt the ideas that result and promote, rather than resist, the resulting changes.
    • Research shows that excellent ideas and important innovations often fail at the implementation Phase because the change agents and champions cannot get needed support from senior management.
  • How much should I give an innovation team in terms of resources such as time, money, equipment and other things they may request?

    • Enough but not too much or too many.
      • The team must be given the resources of time, money, access to expertise, and needed tools that it needs to address the problem it has been given to solve.
      • Too much money, time or other resources can hinder innovation by reducing the urgency of the problem and allowing team members to substitute money for ideas.
  • What should I expect to happen as the team begins its work?

    Research shows that small groups and teams go through predictable stages of self-organisation and development and predictable processes for defining the problem they are trying to solve. What happens during the early stages of the team’s evolution affects the likelihood of success and failure..

    What will happen the first time members of an innovation team (or any small group) meet for the first time?

    • Step 1 in group development: creation of a “fantasy theme.”[2] 
      • A fantasy theme is the narrative or shared idea groups create together about who they are as a group, what their role or task is, how their group relates to the wider organisation or world, and how they and their work is likely to be received by people outside the group.
      • Individuals begin developing a shared narrative, or “fantasy theme,” in the first few minutes after they meet for the first time.
      • Fantasy themes are developed during introductions and through initial small talk among members as they establish relationships with each other.
    • The fantasy theme becomes the group’s self-fulfilling prophecy.
      • As the narrative develops within the group about what the group is, who its members are, and what its tasks are, and as group members slowly adopt that shared understanding.
      • Positive Fantasy Theme: “Wow! Management has tasked us with recreating the way this company works! They’re going to let us change the future!”
    • Result: Team members will devote enormous amounts of energy and effort to the project.
      • Negative Fantasy Theme: “This whole thing is a waste of time. Management never listens to ideas from the staff. Look what happened the last time they put us on a committee like this --we came up with great ideas and they didn’t use any of them!”
    • Result: The team will put minimal effort into the project and there will be small likelihood of success.
    • Group members who try to question or change the accepted fantasy theme will be opposed and ostracized by other group members.
      • Groups will develop self-appointed “mindguards,” who will challenge or intimidate any member of the group who tries to challenge the collective fantasy theme.
      • Group members who continue to challenge the fantasy theme or fail to embrace it will become social outsiders in the group and will have little influence on group processes.
    • Managers should try to seed teams with positive fantasy themes through how they talk to group members during the early stages of organisation.
  • Actions speak louder than words.

    • Data from the Innovation for Media Sustainability in East Africa project suggests that historically, management in East African media organisations has not been very open to new ideas from staff.
      • In such organisations, it will be difficult to convince members of innovation teams that their work will matter in this new committee.
      • Because of fantasy themes, managers should try to be open to staff ideas and implement them if staff input has been sought.
      • Failing to do so will have long-term impact on future innovation efforts because of the key role played by group fantasy themes.
  • Once the innovation team has developed a shared understanding of its role, what happens next?

    Research shows that effective innovation teams and other small groups go through predictable stages in their work and encounter common obstacles to success.

    • What happens in the first stage of an innovation team’s work; the “orientation” phase?
      • Group members become acquainted with each other and the task.
      • They begin defining the problem to be solved or task to be accomplished.
      • This often appears to be a relatively unproductive period characterized by off-task conversation and joking. However, this is a necessary stage of building interpersonal working relationships, which are critical to successful teamwork, and is the period when the group’s shared narrative, or fantasy theme, is developed and established.
    • What happens as an innovation team moves forward from the “orientation” phase?
      • Possible approaches or solutions to the group’s task or problem are identified, developed and debated.
      • Conflict is likely to develop within the team between competing ideas and the team members supporting those ideas.
      • A consensus will begin to emerge around an idea or solution. Evidence and arguments will begin to reinforce support for one idea over others.
      • This is the stage at which the team leader will need to guard against “Groupthink”.
      • A decision is reached.
      • Team members will work to build support for the decision and increase consensus within the team.
      • Team members or the team leader may reach out into the organisation to begin building support for the idea among key staff members or managers, before the idea is taken fully public.
  • What causes innovation teams to fail?

    There are many reasons an innovation team, or any small group may fail. The problem may be insurmountable. Team members may lack ideas that are sufficiently creative or the expertise or insight to envision truly transformative ideas. But the dynamics of the team itself can get in the way of success. Research shows there are common team dynamics that limit innovation-team effectiveness.

    • Psychological constraints.
      • A negative fantasy theme.
      • Perceptions about the limitations of the time or other resources available to the group, or the complexity of the task.
    • Interpersonal constraints.
      • Poor interpersonal relationships between individual group members.
      • Fear of relationship deterioration.
      • Fear of a dominant member of group.
      • Ego-based issues: domination on the group by one individual or faction.
    • Leadership constraints on innovation team effectiveness.
      • Domination of the team by the leader.
      • Lack of leadership.
    • Conflict aversion – attempts to suppress conflicts or disagreements.
      • Inability to effectively manage conflicts and differences of opinion.
    • Groupthink[3]
  • What is “Groupthink?”

    Groupthink occurs when members of a group self-censor and fail to critique ideas put forward within the group. Such self-censorship creates a false appearance of group consensus about an idea or solution.  Groupthink has been implicated in numerous failed political and corporate decisions.

    • What Causes Groupthink?
      • Domination of the team by the leader.
      • Fear of the team leader; fear of offending the team leader or other powerful members of the team.
      • Telling the leader what members of the group believe the leader wants to hear.
      • Conflict aversion either by the team leader or among team members.
      • Team members who feel too powerless to put forward their own ideas or critique others’.
      • Direct social pressure, particularly from what are sometimes called “self-appointed mindguards” in the group.
    • How can I tell when Groupthink is happening on my team?
      • The team develops an illusion of its own:
        • Invulnerability.
        • Morality regarding the team’s actions and decisions.
        • Unanimity.
        •  Team members start offering rationalizations that justify the team’s actions and decisions regardless of the effects those decisions may have on others.
        • Stereotyping of “outgroup” members or those likely to be negatively affected by the team’s actions or decisions.
        • Self-censorship by team members or the team as a whole.
        • Direct social pressure put on team members who raise objections or critiques of the team decisions.
        • Reliance on “mindguards” in the group to pressure dissenters to conform and go along with group decisions.
    • How can our team keep ourselves from sliding into Groupthink, or combat it, if we see it happening?
      •  Keep top executive or department head off the team and out of the room.
        • Groupthink becomes more likely when team members feel they must defer to the Boss, whether from respect or fear.
      •   Team leader/moderator asks open-ended questions, not “yes/no” questions, so team must explain and discuss.
      •  As Team’s ideas/proposals are refined in Phase 3, ask outsiders to comment.
        • Seriously consider/discuss comments about negative impacts and implications.
    • Consider anonymizing team members’ responses/critiques during Phase Evaluation and/or Phase 3: Decision, as appropriate.
      • See “Nominal Group Method” under “Ideas for Successful Idea-Generation”.
      • Choose techniques to anonymize feedback carefully to ensure that they actually provide anonymity.
        • Quoting someone verbatim often accidentally reveals the identity of the author. People speak and write in distinctive, easily identifiable ways.
        • Individuals’ attitudes and opinions already will be known by some, so may be identifiable.
        • Rewrite/paraphrase all submissions before sharing publicly, while being careful to accurately express the idea/critique.
      • Team leader/moderator invites each team member to speak; doesn’t allow members to not participate.
      • Team leader/moderator watches for signs of mindguarding or bullying and intervenes
        • Mindguarding may occur outside of formal team meetings.
      • Team leader/moderator formally appoints one member to serve as the Devil’s Advocate during every meeting where ideas are being evaluated or decisions made.
  • What is a “Devil’s Advocate?”

    The role of the Devil’s Advocate is to speak up and point out weaknesses, counter-evidence and potential downsides to every idea and solution proposed during the Conflict/Emergence Phases of group work or the Evaluation/Decision phases of Ideation processes.

    • Rotate the role of Devil’s Advocate. No single person should consistently play that role.
      • If a person is constantly cast as Devil’s Advocate:
        • They soon will be seen as an outsider/negative personality in the group, will lose social power, and their ideas/ input will be devalued.
        • The oppositional role may become part of their professional identity, creating a problem employee.
  •      What can the Innovation Team leader do to support team success?

    • The team leader should consciously focus on moderating the team discussion, not “lead” it or dominate it.
      • The team leader – and team members -- should always keep in mind that you cannot not communicate.
    • The team leader should be very conscious of their own nonverbal communication.
      • What is included in “nonverbal” communication?
        • Clothes–match the team’s standard of dress or set a slightly, but not greatly, higher standard.
        • Posture—convey confidence and openness by standing/sitting up straight and not crossing your arms or leaning back, which can communicate disengagement or lack of energy.
        • Relax physically, so you communicate a relaxed openness of mind, and thereby encourage that in everyone else.
        • Facial expressions—try to convey a positive, friendly, but neutral expression so that your facial expressions are not communicating approval or disapproval of ideas as they are put forward by team members.
          1. Avoid verbal and nonverbal reactions to ideas or comments, such as nodding or shaking your head, or saying “uh-huh”.
        • Tone of voice. Do you sound relaxed? Friendly? Tense? Hostile? Challenging?
    • Avoid communicating your own opinion/ideas early in the process.
      • Focus on drawing out others’ ideas.
      • Neutral leaders reduce the likelihood team members will self-censor or conform.
    • Ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions to draw out more information; avoid challenging or critiquing.
      • Factual questions: Who, what, when, where, how, why?
      • Explanatory questions: In what way would this work? In what way would this solve the problem? What other aspects should we consider?
      • Neutral questions: What downsides, if any, do you think this idea might have? What benefits, if any, do you think that might create?
      • Justifying questions: Why do you think so? (Said in an inquiring and encouraging – not challenging – tone of voice).
      • Progressing questions: Should we consider this as a possible solution?  Why or why not?
    • The leader should constantly and consciously observe group behavior and intervene to redirect it in positive directions, when necessary.
      • Who talks? Who doesn’t?
        •  The team leader/moderator’s primary role is to draw into the discussion individuals who are staying silent or who are silenced by others.
      • Who interrupts?
        • Men tend to interrupt women frequently, when women speak or put forward ideas; members of cultural/ethnic majorities do the same to members of less socioeconomically powerful groups in society.
          1. This behavior is so widespread that some groups combat it with formal turn-taking rules and time limits for each speaker.
        • Monitor to ensure that women and members of less. socioeconomically/organisationally powerful groups are not prevented from speaking by members of dominant groups.
        • Monitor to ensure that the ideas and opinions put forward by women and members of less socioeconomically/organisationally powerful groups are heard, acknowledged, and credited to the original speaker.
            1. Ideas put forward by less powerful group members are often ignored in group settings until they are picked up and restated by more powerful members, who are then credited with the idea.
              • Team leaders/moderators may restate each idea as it’s offered, attributing it to the speaker.
              • Team leaders/moderators note that the idea put forward by Person X is a restatement or similar to the idea offered previously by Person Y.
            2. If not all of the voices on the team are heard, it has the same effect on team outcomes as self-censorship and eliminates the benefits of team diversity.
        • Observe team members’ nonverbal communication. Are people engaged, interested, bored, frustrated?
          1. Move to understand why a team member or members may be disengaging or uncomfortable.
          2. Address the issue by encouraging them to re-engage or share their concerns to the group.
          3. If necessary, raise your concerns with them privately, where they may feel more comfortable sharing information about factors affecting team dynamics.
        • Observe individuals’ group role. What does each team member contribute to in the group’s success?
          1. Who keeps everyone on task?
          2. Who tries to encourage everyone to be involved and draw in the silent?
          3. Who encourages conflict?
          4. Who encourages congeniality?
          5. Who is willing to negotiate or compromise?
          6. Who contributes to keeping the group’s work and interactions enjoyable?
          7. Who are the social and opinion leaders?
          8. Are there subgroups and coalitions?
  • How do we hold successful ideation processes, the first step in innovation?

    There are a number of different approaches to managing an ideation process. Most of them have several elements in common. Group size, leadership, and group dynamics are all very important.

    • Brainstorming.
      • Group size: 5-7 people.
      • Phase 1: Ideas generation.
    • No critique, evaluation, negative comments are allowed during any ideation Phase.
      • Critical or evaluative reactions to ideas are almost impossible to prevent, particularly when people are new to brainstorming.
      • The leader/moderator should not criticize or shut down the person who offered a negative comment or critique, but should immediately respond by reminding everyone that no form of critique or comment is permitted during the ideas- generating and sharing stage.
    • The leader/moderator should refrain from contributing until near end and of process, and focus instead on encouraging ideas and participation from others.
      • Members should spontaneously contribute as soon as an idea occurs to them.
      • Wild, impossible, outlandish ideas should be encouraged to communicate that radical thinking is welcomed and all ideas will be considered.
        • If truly crazy ideas are notbeing offered, the leader might speak up and offer some as a way of communicating that team members should not be self-censoring ideas.
        • Offering wild ideas makes people more comfortable offering truly unique ideas that they may fear others will think are crazy.
          • Piggybacking on others’ ideas (adding to, suggesting new versions) should be encouraged.
          • As many ideas as possible should be generated.
          • Ideas should be recorded where everyone sees them.
          • No authorship should be attached to recorded ideas.
          • Everyone should be encouraged to contribute.
      • Phase 2: Evaluation Phase.
        • Devil’s Advocate appointed.
        • Each idea, including outlandish and impossible ideas, is seriously discussed and evaluated.
        • The leader/moderator should not allow public ridicule of ideas during evaluation.
        • Ridicule will cause long-term negative effects on the organization’s innovation culture and future innovation teams.
      •  Phase 3: Decision Phase.
        • Narrow ideas to a small number that team believes have potential.
        • Work on building consensus across the team for one or two ideas.
        • Team develops implementation strategies for each potential idea.
        • Implementation strategies and expected outcomes are evaluated.
        • Apply the Decision Process management had previously chosen and communicated to the team before the team started work.
        • Nominal Group Method.
    • Nominal Group Method
      • Nominal Group Method uses the same processes as Brainstorming until Phase 3: Decision Phase.
        • After evaluation, ideas are voted on by team members to decide the final choice, if the team is using a Group Decision process, or to provide management with the team’s rank-ordered recommendations.
        • Each team member has a specific number of votes, depending on the number of ideas.
        • Each person must vote for just that number of ideas, or withhold their votes if they have more votes than ideas they support.
        • No one can cast more than one vote for any one idea.
      • Voting is done simultaneously to protect voters’ anonymity.
        • Either simultaneously through an anonymizing digital survey or voting app.
        • By writing the choices in lists on large pieces of paper or whiteboards, with everyone. given a pen and instructed to crowd around and mark their choices simultaneously.
          • Simultaneous voting makes it difficult to observe any one person’s choices.