January 12, 2022

Selecting the Right Innovation Team

Finding opportunities for innovation and delivering on them within any organization is difficult, especially when we are talking about national or even global enterprises. If you happen to actually cultivate a climate and culture for internal innovation, pull together an active and engaged group of business sponsors, align internal goals and agendas around your initiative, and secure the time and funding needed for experimentation, you have achieved monumental success. Pat yourself and your organization on the back. 

What comes next, though, is figuring out where the opportunity exists for innovation. You must then be able to outline a structure for experimenting, learning, and improving until you’ve created something that delivers incremental value or truly transforms your business.

Step 1. Finding The Right Team 

As you set off on your innovation journey, the most important element is making sure you have the right team. Like any other endeavor, an ill-composed and poorly prepared team will ultimately break down and provide underwhelming results. 

Finding the right people and composition for your program gives you the best chance at achieving your desired outcomes. Most innovation programs recruit from within the organization. In the name of user-centered design, they want those closest to the work to influence what the future looks like. This helps build early buy-in and ensures the problem space is accurately understood. 

So what characteristics define the right team for your innovation journey? Fortunately, we have the simple “3 Ds” of team selection that we can lean on: diversity, dedication, and drive.


To be successful, a team with varied experiences and skillsets is important. A diverse team should bring to the table opposing viewpoints to challenge the status quo, while also having an eye for more practical solutions. Look into the future and imagine that your program has been wildly successful – what team composition made that happen?


The best people are in high demand. You want exceptional people on your teams – but so does everyone else. You’ll have to weigh the benefits of starting now with who is available vs. starting later with the perfect people for the job. Try to avoid the split time fallacy and remember that part-time people deliver part-time results. If you want your team to be 25 percent successful, by all means, staff your team members at 25 percent allocation.


Innovation teams are necessarily entrusted with a lot of responsibility and autonomy. Their job is to identify a solution or approach that previously was not explored. They need the freedom to explore different options and quickly fail, then try another route. The flip side is that each team’s members must be able to hold themselves and their teammates accountable. They must possess a sense of urgency to be good stewards of the freedom they have been given, and be willing to put in the hard work that comes with learning new technologies, conducting viability analysis, and writing user interview scripts.

Step 2. Building The Right Culture

As the person building out a team, you aren’t off the hook, either. We often overlook the thoughtfulness and effort that goes into assembling a quality innovation team and shepherding it in their innovation journey. You’ll want to get ahead of this as much as you can because it takes a lot of work and support to do these things effectively. 

There are a few areas that you should consider and prepare for to save a lot of headaches later on:

Onboarding & Training 

Treat your internal innovation program as a wholly separate business, because for the people that are just joining you it will likely feel that way. Just because someone works at the same company as you, doesn’t mean they have the same experiences and perspectives. Create an onboarding approach that allows them to feel like they are part of the overall mission, understand their expectations, and have the ability to deliver on them or know the resources available to get up to speed.

Alignment & Path Clearing

Not everyone in your business will be aligned to the same goals as you. Consider the goals and vision for your innovation program and the goals of other adjacent organizations. Have candid conversations with your leadership team to identify potential barriers and create a plan to work through or around them.

Expectation Setting

Be clear with your team members on their expectations. It is difficult to balance the entrepreneurial spirit that you need on your innovation team with the clear lines of accountability required to actually keep things moving. Have these conversations out in the open so each team member knows their duties and also where they can flex into other roles if they have the inspiration. Most importantly, create free communication among the team to provide suggestions and feedback to get towards the overall goal.

Let Me Be Me… The Best Me 

As you assemble your team, you’ll be looking for the characteristics we just mentioned – but you’ll undoubtedly be working within some constraints, as well. You’ll be fighting for team availability, but in a push to just get started you’ll be tempted to compromise on a team member’s skillset or working styles. While you’ll find that people can stretch themselves when challenged with an opportunity, they are rarely broken to become a new person altogether. Don’t attempt to break people; allow them to play to their strengths and find opportunities for them to grow and stretch.

Armed with this information, you can lay out a plan for assembling the best team for your innovation endeavor.