If a team of people with different perspectives and talents is to move beyond exisiting business and create something new, then it must work together effectively. If it cannot, the pressures of dealing with an innovation that is important to the firm will aggravate common team failings.
Investment should not stop at team selection. The sponsor and leader should launch the project correctly. This includes the normal steps, such as effective briefing from the sponsor about why the project is important to the firm and what the team’s goals might be. But it also includes early attention to team building. If a team of people with different perspectives and talents is to move beyond exisiting business and create something new, then it must work together effectively. If it cannot, the pressures of dealing with an innovation that is important to the firm will aggravate common team failings. Lencioni lists these failings as lack of trust, fear of confrontation, absence of commitment, absense of accountability and failure to focus on goals. For innovation projects, three items need adding to his list: failure to gain top-level support and failure to listen to the customer. Which leads to seven practical steps firms and teams can take to avoid these failings. These steps draw on the work of Lencioni and other teamwork experts but adapt this to building innovation teams.
Step 1: The first Meeting
Firms should devote at least two days to a first off-site meeting of the team. This is a significant but necessary investment. The purpose of this meeting is to introduce team members to one another in depth, review the assignment and begin to build trust within the team. Since the goal here is innovation, a major part of the time should be spent discussing three key topics. These topics concern how the team can: encourage the creativity of its members; gain the support of the rest of the organization; and go about conducting the preparatory research outlined in Chapter 3. This first meeting can be led by a professional trainer, the core team leader or together. The leaders can also use various team-building techniques within the context of these topics above.
Typically, team members prepare for this meeting by completing diagnostic questionares about their individual or group styles and behaviour. They then share the findings at the meeting as an aid to assigning team roles, at least initially. Many managers are familiar with standard organizational consulting approaches using the Myers – Briggs Indicator or Belbin Team Role Inventory. However, the validity of these has been questioned by academic research, and some experts argue the BigFive personality inventories mentioned in chapter 2 are more valid and useful than these standard approaches. The vignette The project will kick off at 9am describes how a firm might approach the first meeting. The toolkit for the chapter also provides a template for the agenda.
The project will kick-off at 9am
SportTech Ltd (a subsidiary of MobyCorp) has decided to create a technological solution to the problem of deciding when the ball has crossed the goal line in football. The CEO identifies a sponsor for the project, and both executives then identify and appoint a Team Leader (TL). They give this TL authority to pick lead an innovation team to realize SporTech’s objective.
For the project kick-off meeting the TL is joined by the key players she selects from R&D, production, marketing, finance and IT, both in person and by videoconference from other MobyCorp offices. Although this is the first time the team is to meet to discuss the innovation, the project started several weeks ago. Already TL and others have put in many hours of preparation work to ensure the kick – off meeting lainches the project on the right foot.
Since being briefed by the sponsor, the TL has thought about the goals of the project, identified team members, compiled a list of assumptions about the project, and worked up a preliminary plan. She has susequently met again with the project sponsor and together they have defined in specific terms the key success factors relevant to each team member.
In scheduling the kick – off meeting, the TL took care to find a date and time when all the core team members could attend, not allowing anyone to catch up later. She also took time to impress on everyone how important their commitment to the project is and to ask them to complete their diagnostic questionares. In advance, everyone receives a pack of materials, including agenda, team contact details, background information and draft project plan. There are clear instructions to everyone to review their part in it and to reflect on the results from their questionares. The day before the TL conducts a final review herself, rehearsing how she will present the agenda and noting the most important points she needs to make.
All the preparation pays off when kick–off arrives. The TL is on top of the project and drives the meeting with authority. She takes the team step-by-step through the overarching business goal of SportTech and the draft project plan, fixing the timeline and highlighting the key factors for success. Team members introduce themselves to one another thoroughly, building in part on their questionares. The team then decides the roles and responsibilities of each member ina way that empowers rather than directs.
With the confidence and good humour born of thorough preparation, the TL is able to keep the meeting flowing. She anticipates tricky questions and prevents proceedings becoming bogged down in unnecessary detail that can be dealt with later. The agenda closes with a team-building exercise that demonstrates some of the principles of effective collaboration, pairing off particular team members who will need to cooperate closely.
By the end of the meeting no one is in any doubt that they are embarking on an important and well-planned project that has a good leader at its head. This impression is reinforced when a thorough but concize set of minutes appears in their inboxes the next day. These itemize each team member’s actions and provide the schedule of future meetings. Game on.