Building an Innovation Dream Team: 3 Strategies for Impactful Innovation Management

By Ben Ahrens Published on Oct. 17, 2023

In the current business landscape, effective team innovation management is indispensable for companies aiming to maintain a competitive edge. It involves overseeing dedicated employee teams who identify opportunities and foster groundbreaking innovations. Prioritizing team innovation management helps companies spot and seize emerging technological trends. Understanding the core principles of team innovation management is crucial for success in the digital age.

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Given this context, it raises the question: what role do senior leaders play in achieving innovation strategy? The Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), in particular, holds a crucial responsibility in leading innovation teams towards success. Additionally, the integration of AI technologies has further empowered CIOs to manage trends and generate innovative ideas with greater accuracy and speed. In the digital age, the transition of traditional businesses highlights the utmost importance of grasping the fundamental aspects of innovation team management. This holds the power to shape the success of a company, playing a crucial role in determining its path in the dynamic market landscape. It has the potential to significantly impact the company's trajectory and pave the way for future achievements.

In this article, you’ll learn:

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  • The significance of innovation team management
  • Responsibilities of a Chief Innovation Officer
  • Revolutionizing trend management and idea generation through AI technologies
  • Fundamentals of innovation team management and how Plug and Play acts as a catalyst for existing innovation departments
  • Various structures adopted by companies for building innovation departments
  • Examples of existing businesses and their innovation departments

Understanding corporate innovation management for teams

Team innovation management is the process of managing innovation teams dedicated to developing new products, services, or processes. This involves the identification of potential new ideas and concepts, as well as the development of those ideas and concepts into tangible results. Team innovation management also consists of providing resources such as funds and personnel needed for research and development, as well as overseeing the team's progress.

Why companies build innovation departments and how they structure them

Businesses have long recognized the importance of innovation in creating value and staying competitive. As such, many companies have created innovation departments to help foster new ideas and develop them into successful products or services.

The company's specific goals often determine the structure of an innovation department. For instance, a centralized innovation department allows for greater control over the development process but may need to be more effective at gathering input from external sources. Conversely, a decentralized approach allows for more input from outside sources but can make coordinating efforts across different teams difficult.

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When it comes to innovation, the ongoing debate on internal and external structures revolves around two pivotal aspects: the reliance on internal resources versus the involvement of external facilitators, such as Plug and Play. While adopting an internal approach ensures quality control and aligns with the company's brand image, embracing an external approach, bolstered by the support of Plug and Play, injects fresh perspectives and expedites the exploration of untapped opportunities. By carefully considering these factors, organizations can strike a delicate balance between consistency and external influence, cultivating a dynamic environment for growth and discovery.

Finally, dedicated vs. part-time structures refer to how much time and resources are devoted to innovating new ideas. A dedicated model requires more significant investments in people and resources upfront but may be more effective in producing results over time due to its focus on long-term projects. A part-time model requires less investment upfront but may produce fewer results due to a lack of focus and continuity between projects. Examples of companies utilizing these structures include:

  • To uphold Amazon's customer-centric approach, it is crucial that they have centralized access to customer data and insights. Implementing a CRM database facilitates a comprehensive understanding of customers, enabling a unified front that delivers exceptional customer experiences.
  • Distinct from a conventional R&D department, Google's decentralized model, known as 'Area 120', fosters collaboration among employees across all levels within the organization. This unique approach allows them to engage in early-stage projects that span diverse disciplines, including gaming and machine learning, devoting 20% of their allocated work time to these endeavors.
  • Walmart's 'Store No. 8' serves as the incubation arm for the commerce giant, striving to cultivate revolutionary capabilities that will shape the future of retail. It operates as a centralized innovation department, driving internal transformation and fostering breakthrough ideas.

Overall, each type of structure has its own pros and cons that must be carefully weighed before committing resources to it. Companies should consider their individual goals when deciding which structure best supports their pursuit of innovation.

Key roles and responsibilities within teams for innovation management

Innovation teams are essential to the success of any company. They serve as a bridge between new ideas and actual business results, ensuring the company achieves its goals creatively and efficiently. The key roles within innovation teams vary depending on the size of the team and the scope of their work, but all groups must include specific functions to succeed.

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At a minimum, innovation teams should have a facilitator or leader, an individual responsible for carrying out research, someone to evaluate new ideas, and an individual to communicate them to stakeholders. These roles provide organization and guidance within the innovation process. In larger teams, it's common for additional members to specialize in specific areas such as finance, legal, or marketing.

The most crucial role within an innovation team is typically that of the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO). The CIO holds the responsibility of overseeing every aspect of innovation, from the initial idea to successful implementation. It is their duty to devise strategies that fuel growth through innovative concepts by staying abreast of industry trends and advancements. They identify areas for product and technological enhancements, spearhead projects with long-term advantages, and deliver comprehensive reports to senior management. According to Deloitte's Innovation Study 2021, an impressive 72% of CIOs and tech leaders are actively driving their companies' innovation endeavors — significantly surpassing roles in strategy and operations, which follow at 48% and 43%, respectively.

The CIO must also ensure that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities, foster collaboration by creating an environment that encourages creative thinking, and delegate tasks appropriately to bring maximum value from each team member's skill set. Giulio Ranucci, Head of Innovation, Digital, & CVC at Aeroporti di Roma, harked on this point during a recent interview, highlighting that, for a successful innovation team, “it’s a key structure in terms of having the bias for action, but at the same time strong leadership.”

Building a collaborative culture and mindset

Creating a collaborative culture and mindset within innovation teams is critical to the success of an organization. It ensures that everyone works together towards a common goal and leverages team members' collective knowledge and experience to develop creative solutions. It also helps foster a sense of camaraderie and morale within the team, leading to more productive working relationships.

Effective team innovation management is essential for creating and maintaining this collaborative culture and mindset. Team managers must be able to create an environment where each individual feels valued and respected while encouraging open dialogue between all parties involved. Leaders should also establish clear expectations for each team member's role in the group and provide regular feedback on their progress. This will ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them, which can help reduce any potential conflict or misunderstanding.

innovation management_Larissa de Moura

"Leading organizations need to challenge the status quo and provide inclusive spaces for their teams. Leaders who embrace their team's unique qualities and promote team bonding thrive. So, offering engaging education and capability-building programs, hands-on learning experiences, or inspirational formats are key to creating spaces where teams can connect, build trust, co-create together, and share cultural experiences. This unlocks their true innovative potential"

— Larissa de Moura, Open Innovation Analyst at Plug and Play

In addition, leaders need to create opportunities for team members to bond with one another outside of work, such as through social activities or team-building exercises. These activities will not only help build relationships but also foster a sense of trust within the group necessary for effective collaboration. Leaders should also strive to create an inclusive workspace where different opinions are respected and encouraged, regardless of background or beliefs. This will promote a healthy exchange of ideas amongst team members, leading to better brainstorming sessions and more innovative results.

Overall, cultivating a collaborative culture and mindset within innovation teams is essential for developing successful solutions that benefit the organization as a whole. It requires clear leadership from team managers who are dedicated to fostering an environment where different perspectives are welcomed and valued while still providing guidance on how tasks should be executed. With these strategies in place, organizations can ensure that their innovation teams have the opportunity to thrive and deliver meaningful outcomes.

Collaboration with other business units and the impact of AI on teams' innovation management

Team innovation management requires a team effort, with collaboration between departments often being the key to success. Effective collaboration with other business units is essential for innovation teams to deliver new and innovative products or services successfully. The importance of this collaboration lies in the cross-functional nature of managing innovation projects, allowing teams to take advantage of different areas of expertise and resources from other parts of the organization.

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For an innovation team to work effectively, their collaboration must be well-thought-out and organized. It is important for all parties involved to have a clear understanding of each other's roles and what they are expected to contribute throughout the project. This can be achieved by establishing open communication channels between all divisions involved so that any issues can be discussed early on. Additionally, it helps if everyone understands the scope of the project and its goals, as this will allow them to bring their best ideas forward.

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When collaborating with other business units, it is also necessary for teams to identify shared objectives and develop strategies for achieving them together. This could include having joint meetings or brainstorming sessions where members from different departments can come together and share their perspectives on how best to achieve organizational goals. It is also important that team members are willing to compromise when coming up with solutions that benefit both sides – this could include adjusting timelines or even working across departments on specific tasks whenever needed.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also transforming the way innovation teams operate, automating repetitive tasks to significantly reduce time spent on mundane activities. The adoption of AI technology in innovation management empowers teams to anticipate market trends, make data-driven decisions, and streamline their processes. Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI, plays a particularly influential role in this domain. ML algorithms can analyze vast quantities of data, uncovering patterns and trends that elude human analysts. This capability enables companies to proactively predict future market trends and customer behaviors, staying one step ahead of the competition.

Effective collaborations between teams are pivotal for successful innovation management projects, allowing businesses to capitalize on each other's strengths and resources while working towards a shared objective. Cultivating an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and participating in discussions fosters trust within the organization, ultimately paving the way for immense success. Find out three unique strategies to build an innovation dream team.

Strategy 1: Encouraging cross-functional collaboration

Encouraging cross-functional collaboration within an innovation team is essential for success. To foster a culture of openness and communication between different departments, it is necessary to create channels of communication that allow for open exchange between all team members. This can be done through creating internal forums or chatrooms, establishing regular meetings and check-ins, and promoting knowledge sharing across teams.

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Promoting cross-functional collaboration entails seeking external input not only from other departments but also from outside experts. This approach allows teams to capitalize on diverse perspectives and experiences, facilitating the discovery of creative solutions to the challenges at hand.

Along with developing communication channels, it is also essential to promote transparency within the team by encouraging honest feedback and discussion among members. Encouraging open dialogue amongst team members will help ensure everyone feels heard and respected regardless of their role. Additionally, having a shared understanding of objectives and goals will ensure that everyone works together towards a common goal without any sense of competition or resentment.

Strategy 2: Fostering a culture of continuous learning

Creating an environment that encourages learning is key for any successful innovation team. This involves enabling employees to pursue new skill sets, learn new techniques, and explore innovative approaches through internal and external training courses and workshops. Access to these resources will enable employees to keep up with technological trends while helping them think outside the box when solving complex problems as a team.

Encouraging individuals to ask questions and share their ideas openly in order to spark creativity will also help foster collaboration among team members while pushing boundaries for new solutions or products within their industry. Roy Brown, Vice President of Technology Ventures at Worley, spoke on the importance of continually driving innovation through self-development and how you need to push “your own boundaries, personal and professionally, but also making yourself a little uncomfortable when you need to because a complacent person in technology or innovation is just not creative.”

Additionally, ensuring that there are opportunities for employees to present their findings at conferences or events will motivate them by providing recognition for their work while connecting them with other professionals from related fields who may have valuable insights into the issues they are tackling as a team.

Strategy 3: Implementing agile methodologies

The most effective way for an innovation team to succeed is by embracing agile methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban boards to manage projects efficiently and effectively from start to finish. By structuring tasks into smaller manageable chunks called "sprints," teams can stay focused on short-term deliverables rather than becoming overwhelmed by large-scale projects while still having an organized view of the bigger-picture goals they need to reach overall as a collective unit.

Team members can also use tools like Trello or Jira, which are designed specifically for project management in order to simplify this process even further while allowing healthy levels of visibility across project tasks so anyone on the team can access what needs attention at any given time without requiring additional guidance from management which helps minimize risk factors associated with complex project designs such as scope creep or timeline delays due unexpected obstacles/changes midstream which results in more prominent productivity rates overall over time when implemented properly within organizations' structures overall.

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Agile methodologies not only streamline processes but also help teams become adaptive quickly so that they can adjust if needed during development cycles without compromising quality workmanship along the way, which leads to higher customer satisfaction rates long term, which leads to greater success overall over time in the addition being consistently used by many top tier organizations around the world today due its versatility & effectiveness when properly employed on various types of projects big and small alike.

Building an innovative team requires a focus on people and processes, including encouraging cross-functional collaboration, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and implementing agile methodologies. By doing this, companies will create an environment where teams are encouraged to come up with bold solutions while benefiting from increased efficiency due to improved communication between departments and faster iteration cycles due to agile methodology adoption — all leading towards increased customer satisfaction along with profitability increases over time.

During a recent interview, Dianne Ripberger, Senior Director of External Innovation for Global R&D at PepsiCo, touched on this emphasis on the people within team innovation management, stating that “it’s not about what they can do, but it’s about what they can do for the rest of the organization, and that’s not only energizing to me, but it’s cyclical.” See what else additional leaders from Worley and Aeropori di Roma had to say as well.

Examples of successful team innovation management

Discover how our corporate partners have successfully implemented team innovation management strategies. Through partnerships with industry leaders such as Worley, Aeroporti di Roma, and PepsiCo, we have facilitated international expansion and empowered companies to strengthen their innovation teams. We have enabled these three corporate partners to forge strong connections with the startup ecosystem and harness the transformative power of open innovation. Learn more about our impactful collaborations that drive global growth and inspire innovation.

For a deeper understanding of how Plug and Play collaborates with corporates and startups to drive groundbreaking innovation, delve into our collection of influential case studies. They showcase the remarkable impact we bring to the table:

Plug and Play acts as a catalyst for global innovation, fostering close collaboration with partners' existing innovation departments. We excel in coordinating comprehensive innovation services across various business areas, leveraging our extensive network to enhance innovation team performance. Our industry-focused accelerator programs connect promising startups with established corporations, fostering collaboration and creating a unique approach to innovation. With a wide range of services, including accelerator programs, corporate initiatives, and investment opportunities, we cater to diverse businesses. Whether it's providing guidance and resources to fledgling startups or facilitating collaboration opportunities for mature enterprises, Plug and Play empowers innovative teams to achieve success quicker than ever before.

The future of innovation management

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As businesses modernize and technology continues to evolve, the need for an innovation team is becoming increasingly essential. In order to stay competitive in a fast-paced, ever-changing economy, businesses must be prepared to implement innovative ideas that can help them remain current and successful.

One of the key trends that businesses should look out for is the increased utilization of global resources. With globalization on the rise, companies are beginning to recognize the potential benefits of utilizing resources outside their own borders to maximize their innovation capabilities. By partnering with global thought leaders and leveraging international talent pools, businesses can gain access to cutting-edge solutions that can give them a competitive edge.

To stay ahead of this evolving trend, businesses should proactively consider integrating an innovation team within their operations. This approach proved pivotal for Aeroporti di Roma, as exemplified by Ranucci, who emphasized the heightened focus on innovation, especially in terms of structural and organizational enhancements during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

An experienced group of professionals who specialize in developing innovative products, services, or processes can help a company stay ahead of its competitors and spur growth within its organization. Companies should consider using Plug and Play as a catalyst for their existing innovation departments to maximize the potential of this approach. Our global reach enables us to provide unique insights from some of the world's top experts on various topics related to energy sources, blockchain technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more — all of which can be leveraged by any business looking to stay relevant in an ever-evolving market landscape.

NEXT: AI Innovation: Empowering CIOs with an Unbeatable Advantage

Investing in an innovative environment is critical if you want your business to remain competitive now and into the future. Using resources like Plug and Play will ensure that you have access to some of the best minds in the industry, enabling you to move ahead with confidence as markets continue changing rapidly.

Ready to start innovating? Consult our seasoned experts to build your own corporate innovation strategy.Reach out to us today, and let's get started.