Three Skills Great Innovation Teams Have in Common

Written by: Gabby Culver

Innovation Team Skills

Innovation teams are in a tough spot. They’re at the nexus point of two very different (and equally complex) worlds. To source external innovation, they’re out building relationships in the fast-moving entrepreneurial world of startups, VCs, universities and accelerators. And to meet the needs of their enterprise stakeholders, they need to navigate an internal system that operates at a completely different pace. Being the “transmission” in the middle of these two networks puts innovation teams under immense pressure. They’re struggling to manage massive amounts of data and relationships on both sides. They’re balancing near-term and long-term goals. And they’re also working to establish credibility both within their enterprise and in the marketplace. Their unique position brings with it the need for a special set of skills and experience.

Here are the top three skillsets that we see in great innovation teams.

Experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem
If you’re sourcing external innovation, it’s a given that you need to excel at discovering and evaluating new technologies. Being able to efficiently find the innovation you need when you need it also requires strong relationships with connectors in the startup ecosystem. Having a history of operating in the ecosystem and ideally some level of entrepreneurial experience is helpful to build effective relationships with startups, VCs, accelerators, universities, etc. This isn’t a prerequisite for everyone on your team, but having some folks with the right experience and a network already in place provides a leg up and established credibility for finding the best solutions.

The ability to connect external innovation to the enterprise
Discovering external innovation is key for successful innovation teams. Being able to get it to the people with the need for it – and the ability to effectively implement it – is equally important. For this to happen, there needs to be true partnership between the innovation team and the rest of the organization. Like all partnerships this is two way street: effective communication and marketing from the innovation team, and a receptive team of early adopters and evangelists in different lines of business.

The most effective innovation teams we work with possess a combination of technical acumen, communication skills and the ability to synthesize market data and make it relatable to teams across their organization. They’re also willing to break a little glass — advocating for a pilot or partnership opportunity and pushing against a large enterprise’s innovation “immune system”. These teams recognize that a rapid pace of experimentation and an effective process for partnering with outside innovators is key to both staying competitive and building a reputation in the startup ecosystem as a good partner.

Prioritization and process management
Innovation teams can be likened to air traffic controllers, with information coming from every direction, and billions of dollars at stake. Collaborating across global teams to manage all of the information, build innovation pipelines and drive outcomes is no small task. It requires shared methods for prioritizing demands, establishing clear processes for meeting them, and sweating the details. Teams who get this right are leading in their industry.

Bottom line
Innovation teams are up against a lot. They have one of the hardest jobs in any organization. But with the right people with the right skills in place, they can bring defining change to their business. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll go into more detail about the challenges innovation leaders face and how they are overcoming them. Stay tuned!

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