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The Roles You Need on Your Innovation Team

Finding the right people to be part of your innovation teams makes all the difference.

calendar icon March 21, 2018

What roles do you need on your innovation team?

Processes and frameworks alone can only take an innovation team so far. Finding the right people to be part of your innovation teams makes all the difference. Great innovation teams need to have individuals that possess high emotional intelligence and innovative qualities.  These people often have eclectic or unorthodox ways of thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset biased toward action and iteration.

The most effective innovation teams are made up of people with technical acumen, solid communication skills and the ability to analyze  and relay trends in the market to teams across their organization. By hiring for innovation, companies are looking for the best approach to source and develop new ideas and collaborate with external partners, which are often intrinsic to a company’s success.

Hiring an effective innovation team can help create a positive work culture that includes engaged employees. Sixty-six (66%) percent of respondents to a Deloitte Innovation Survey, said that innovation was key for growth. Employing an innovation team can also be a differentiator in a competitive market, allowing a company to stand out from competitors and attract the best talent.

So, who are these individuals and how can enterprise companies employ them on their innovation teams? They’re a diverse group of people with skills that may not seem like characteristics typical roles on innovation teams:

Roles on Innovation Teams:


Every innovation team should have an individual with technical acumen –  a person whose role it is to stay abreast of broad trends, understand how specific technologies are used, and how to apply it it to solve real problems while creating a better experience for customers. Technologists can wear many hats which may include managing projects or participating in strategy. However, strengths of the role include looking at emerging tech trends and being able to determine the applicability to address the specific needs of the business. Think architects, engineers and other individuals with agile development experience.


The one role that complements that of the technologist on the innovation team is the strategist, which identifies potential solutions and makes the best recommendation on how to move forward. Strategists are critical thinkers and are often adopters of the design thinking process which helps gather inspiration, generate ideas and communicate next steps. The strategist is especially key in maintaining a consistent narrative for the greater team.

Program/Project Manager

Every innovation team needs someone to help align the team and the greater organization, streamline projects, outline priorities and clear bottlenecks. This role can be translated in a number of ways but is most commonly a project manager or innovation program manager. Different than innovation manager, the project or program manager focuses on the innovation pipeline, capturing business needs and modifying projects as required. These individuals usually have a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

Product Expert(s)

Even the leanest innovation teams need a product expert — many rely on their partners in the business units for these capabilities. These individuals act as subject matter experts — they research and test new technologies, understand user needs and pain points, map out requirements — and may also prototype and design products. Product experts are the optimizers, and are skilled at spotting potential competitive advantages because they’ve clearly defined opportunities and deeply understand what customers need and want.


Innovation teams often struggle to introduce an innovation mindset to the greater organization. Clear communication plans are needed to present the innovation program, explain how it works and how key stakeholders get involved. To get support for initiatives and build momentum, innovation teams need advocates. Advocates help communicate progress, advise on next steps and they get people excited by creating success stories. Often times these individuals are marketers or creatives.  

The most effective innovation teams work symbiotically with all the roles on the team and with key stakeholders across the organization to identify the best possible solutions to meet the needs of the business.