by Tim Kastelle
Here’s a persistent innovation management question: is it better to have a dedicated team responsible for innovation, or should this responsibility be distributed throughout your entire organization? The best answer depends on your circumstances. But if you set up a dedicated team, it’s important to consider what role you want them to play. There are four different roles that a dedicated innovation team can fill.
One of the organizations that John and I do quite a bit of work with has a new internal group that’s been set up to try to help facilitate the identification and execution of innovations that will have a longer-term impact on performance. Prior to this, they had been responsible for facilitating all innovation throughout the organization. In this new configuration, a different group is responsible for helping incremental innovations. The longer-term group, which includes all the people that we’ve been working with over the years is supposed to be looking at “emerging opportunities.”
Over the past few months I’ve been working with them to try to figure out what their business model should be. As we talked things through, we realized that there were really four different roles that they could try to fill. This is what they are, in order of increasing levels of resource commitment:
- Information Facilitation: this is essentially the role they used to have before the restructure. When you do information facilitation, you find information about innovation, and distribute this to people that are generating ideas. This will help them figure out how to best execute the new ideas. In this role you can also work on developing processes and infrastructure that support all parts of the innovation process. This type of group is most active in supporting idea generation.
It pays to think about this taxonomy for a few important reasons:
- Upper management often thinks that they are setting up an Execution Delivery group, but only puts together a group with sufficient skills and resources to successfully fill one of the less intensive roles. You can’t set up an innovation group, with responsibility for innovating, without also provided the resources that are required to do this. If you have limited resources (or limited commitment), it is better to acknowledge up front that your new team will be Opportunity Consultants or Enablers. Or even Information Facilitators. The more clear you are about the group’s objectives, the more likely it is that they will be successful. And the objectives have to align with the resources.
Using specialist teams to support innovation is a really good idea. However, in order for them to be successful, you need to be clear at the start about which role you want them to fulfill. Each one requires different skills, and different levels of resourcing. If you want a high-performing Execution Delivery team, you need to resource it appropriately.
If you don’t don’t need a full delivery team, or if you don’t have the resources or commitment to supporting one, then you need to scale back expectations. It’s a question of figuring out which role best supports your overall strategy. That’s how you work through your ball of creative mess.
Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed this article you will also enjoy The Nine Innovation Roles by Braden Kelley
Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.