5 tips to build a real and successful innovative team

Team innovation is one of the key factors for having a successful organization. Here are 5 tips that will help you build an effective and innovative team.

Hand pointing out the Innovation word written in a windowThere is no doubt that innovation is one of the key factors of successful product development nowadays. Companies that have innovation as a core value are known to be successful.

An innovative team adds value in several ways. It can be on the technical side, like data modeling or algorithm improvements, on the process side — enhancements that could eventually boost quality or accelerate development speed —, or on the functionality side by creating features that will make final user’s life much easier.

Innovative thinking, with the right company culture, leads to new ideas and concepts that highly correlate with product success. How do you achieve this? How can we promote innovation in a team environment? Next, we will review some advice to become a truly innovative team.

1. Take some time off to get innovation time

Creativity requires space to explore it and experiment with it. Innovative companies like Google and 3M use the Innovation Time Off (ITO) initiative to generate new ideas without sacrificing results. At Google, for example, it led to the ideation of Gmail, while at 3M, this practice led to the discovery of the Post It note.

In the real world, it is hard to take this time off, as everyday tasks get in between. Besides, there are some companies that can’t afford to offer employees 15% or 20% of their time to have an ITO. The idea is to find a balance between innovation and productivity.

One way of working on this is to give this time off to limited people and eventually, rotate it among other employees. This should be given to motivated employees that are resolute to work on this concept. Another approach can be to encourage employees to present creative ideas related to the core business and once they are approved, give time to the ideas’ owner to develop them.

Time off should be real. Make sure to offer a safe space, away from all day-to-day distractions.

Content related: Tips for remote working in IT organizations

2. Set the stage for innovation

Communicating with your team is essential. Set the context for everyone to understand what the criteria for successful innovation is. Try to show them real-life examples, as they make it easier to envision where they should aim. Be wise in doing that, because you should walk the fine line between giving the technical team an idea or context of what to expect but also let them be creative and think outside the box.

3. Use a Lean Startup approach to validate innovation

This is about using the right methodology to validate the new ideas early on that are coming from the innovation process. To make this possible, you need to focus on checking a new idea’s feasibility to avoid getting stuck in developing things that won’t work as expected.

Team holding hands in sign of team workMoreover, be focused on rotating the resources/professionals dedicated to innovation thinking so the team can keep on coming up with fresh, innovative ideas. In a few words, keep the ball rolling. We’ve already referenced the use of lean startups in companies in our article: “Why Lean Startup is the next step for maintaining innovation”. 

Tech teams working with Agile methodologies will feel confident with the concept of Lean Startup as they share the “core Agile spirit” mindset. Lean Startup principles are based on validated learning, which is a process where the company assesses consumers’ interests. This process is implemented on what is called Build-Measure-Learn, following these steps:

  • First, plan the Build-Measure-Learn: In this stage, you define the idea you want to test and the information you need to learn. The next step will be to decide what you should measure to test it and how you’ll collect the data (analytics, surveys, specific data collection, etc.).
  • Build: Work on a prototype or a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the smallest possible product that allows you to test your hypothesis. It can be a landing page, a presentation, or whatever the early adopters may be interested in.
  • Measure: Check if there was enough interest in your idea to continue its development.
  • Learn: You will have to make a decision based on the measurements accumulated. Should it “persevere” — go on with the same idea —, or should it “pivot”?

If you pivot, change your old hypothesis and create a new one. Here are some typical ways of pivoting:

  • Zoom-in pivot is when one feature gets more interest than others do so you stick with that one.
  • Zoom-out pivot is going the other way around and broadening your product.
  • Customer segment pivot is when your idea is popular but not within the target you determined.

Sometimes, this process might be frustrating as it can bring bad news, especially during early loops. It can affect the morale of the team and requires determination to persevere. Try to keep the team’s spirit high. Don’t give up!

4. Have an innovation leader

Make sure to not confuse this role with the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) role, as this one has the purpose of articulating and facilitating the innovation process for the development/technical team.

Six people having a meeting at some officeInstead of this, what we need is a Leader role, which can be a part-time or full-time job, according to the company’s size and its commitment to the innovation process. Here are some key aspects that the Leader role should be responsible for:

  • Be a mentor: Guide others with your experience and best practices.
  • Be a facilitator: Give the team the right tools to work with. Help them unblock the innovation process by introducing methods, techniques, and games to get better results. Some ideas that help empower ideation and innovation are:
    1. Six Sigma DMAIC Method. The idea is to Define the customer’s problem, Measure it, Analyze it to find its root cause, and then Improve it by brainstorming on the relevant solutions. Finally, Control it so that you maintain the improvements.
    2. Design Thinking. Here is another design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems in 5 steps:
      • Empathize: Research your users’ needs.
      • Define: State your users’ needs and problems.
      • Ideate: Challenge assumptions and create ideas.
      • Prototype: Start to create solutions.
      • Test: Try your solutions out.

Do not miss this reading: 7 skills of a good team leader in software development

5. Have a nearshore team

A great way of delivering innovation is building a nearshore development team. In that way, the nearshore team works along with your local resources in a near time zone. Latin America is a particularly great location to work along with companies in the U.S., with countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and Colombia constantly growing and with highly skilled professionals.

The greater cost-efficiency of this approach could mean getting more resources onboard. The experience of these resources working in large and complex project developments plus the scaling big potential of this model makes it a powerful tool to start this process towards innovation.

One last piece of advice is to start your offshore team with small teams, and once you see that they are mature and performing as expected, make them grow incrementally.

Conclusion

You can innovate in different ways from technological solutions or product improvement to product or business model innovation. Having extraordinary resources sometimes is not enough. You have to empower the team and give them the place and technique to focus on this process. Start today with these tips and ideas and build a real innovative team!

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