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Innovation Culture: Creating the Ideal Environment

Implement the Right Conditions for your Innovation Team to be Successful

Nicholas Himowicz

As part of our “What makes a good innovation coach?” webinar, Aya Caldwell (Executive Director for Digital Product at Novartis) shared with us three areas of focus she's constantly working on with her teams to create the right conditions for innovation success.

As innovation coaches, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of things like the tools, techniques and methodologies. But if you want your innovation teams to succeed, you need to focus on building the right team culture too.

1. Create psychological safety in your team

It is paramount to create an environment where colleagues feel safe enough to challenge and question assumptions in a healthy and productive way. It’s very difficult to innovate without this kind of psychological safety.

Think of it like this. If you have an idea that you believe is ‘perfect’ and the rest of the team don’t challenge it, then it’s very unlikely you’re going to have the input you need to make that idea better. At the beginning of your innovation journey where risk and uncertainty is high, you need to challenge all of your assumptions and the best way to do that is with your team members. 

As a coach, it’s your job to check your teams  have built that sense of psychological safety. They need to be able to share what they really think, constructively, to get to the best possible solution.

2. Have a common vision and a customer obsession

When working with an innovation team, ask each team member to describe who they think their customer is. Chances are, you will get over 30 sticky notes with completely different responses (what everyone thought was obvious isn’t so obvious after all.) This is a great exercise to focus the team and get them aligned.

Often, in large corporations, there’s confusion around who is a customer versus who is a stakeholder. Leadership is a stakeholder and quite often will have a certain vision for what they want to see in a new business idea. Teams will then end up delivering that idea based on what they think the leadership wants rather than how their real customers would want it to be.

You need to help your teams have a clear understanding of who the customer is, how you're trying to serve them and what the evidence is you need from them.

3. Focus on the outcome and ruthlessly prioritize

You need to ensure your teams are laser focussed on the outcome they’re trying to achieve and ruthlessly prioritize their limited time and resources.

Idea generation is the fun part. We all love hackathons, ideation sessions and team collaboration. But when it comes to actually doing the work, you need to make sure you’re prioritizing the right ideas. The key question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the experiment/activity you’re about to engage in is going to help you get the evidence you need to either support or refute your hypothesis. 

It’s easy to start using activity based metrics e.g. number of experiments, training sessions and interviews conducted to demonstrate how much work your team has done. 

But you must ask yourself “So what? What did we achieve? Have we really de-risked our idea?”

If your activities aren’t getting you closer to a validated business model and value proposition, it’s important to question why you’re doing them at all.

Those are three things Aya Caldwell sees as critical to the success of an innovation team and therefore important for innovation coaches to really think about.

If you’re interested in becoming a world class innovation coach, then check out our virtual bootcamp happening in February 2022. Register your interest here.

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