Build and Lead Your Team

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe what is meant by intrapreneurship.
  • List the four behaviors that employees who lead innovation exhibit.
  • List the roles that are helpful to include on your innovation team.
  • Practice a tactic for inviting your team to participate.
  • Detail how you can prepare yourself and your manager for failure.

The Innovator’s Job Description

There is no one job description for innovators, but it’s understandable if you’re asking yourself: “Can I do this? How do I lead an innovation team if I’ve never done so before?” Don’t lose confidence! Instead, think like an “intrapreneur.” (Yes, this is an innovation trail, prepare for a few buzzwords.)

Intrapreneurship is the art of thinking and acting like an entrepreneur inside an organization. Intrapreneurs are passionate, committed go-getters who are motivated by introducing new ideas and bringing them to life. They dream and they do.

If you want to deliver the change that you envision, here are three important ideas to embrace.

  • Innovation work requires a different mindset. Behaviorally, you want to embrace certain habits.
  • It takes a village. It’s critical to involve the right people from the beginning so that you’re well positioned for execution.
  • Failure is possible. Rather than ignore or dismiss that possibility, acknowledge it and reframe it as an inevitable part of the process.

Let’s unpack each practice with some tips and exercises that you can use right away.

The Mindset for Innovation

Gary Hamel and Nancy Tennant in a Harvard Business Review article, “The 5 Requirements of a Truly Innovative Company,’ lay out four behaviors that are essential for innovation and intrapreneurship.

  1. Challenge invisible orthodoxies. Reject the mindset of “that’s just the way we do things around here.” You learn more about how to bust orthodoxies in the “Innovation Project Definition” module.
  2. Harness underappreciated trends. Interpreting data, predictions, and trends brings tremendous power. Constantly scour what’s now and what’s next—you might just stumble on an insight that your competitors have overlooked. We call this “futurecasting,” and we tell you more about it in the “Innovation Customer Discovery” module.
  3. Leverage competencies and assets. One of the coolest parts about being an intrapreneur is that you have the heft and breadth of your entire company behind you. When advocating for your organization to try something new, consider the sum of your parts and use them to your advantage. Sound abstract? Think about Disney circa 1955. Walt Disney had several blockbuster films under his belt by then and developed a library of successful characters and content: Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Pinocchio. When he dreamed up the idea for Disneyland—something truly visionary—he funded it by diversifying into television. He leveraged his intellectual property and started transforming it for other distribution channels so that he could fund his big bets.
  4. Address unarticulated needs. Get at hidden needs through intensive, ethnographic observations of your customer. We show you some rapid approaches to customer discovery in the “Innovation Customer Discovery” module.

Another habit to embrace is the process of divergent and convergent thinking. This process involves allowing your mind to explore, generate, and consider a vast number of ideas. You then reach a point where you can pause and start to make decisions. Think of it like when you visit your favorite online shoe store, browse through hundreds of options to select 10 or so pairs and add them to your cart. Then you review your cart and narrow down your choices to the one pair you buy.

The innovation process alternates between periods when you are creating choices and then making choices. As you continue along this journey, use this model to validate those moments when your team is thinking broadly versus honing in on a path forward.

Diverge: Create choices. Converge: Make choices.

It Takes a Village

Obviously, it’s hard to innovate by yourself, but more importantly, you can’t get all that work done alone. We’ve listed some roles that can make up your village. Come up with your own names to fit your organization’s style and culture.

Innovation Role Map

Role Description

Executive Sponsor

Example: CMO

A successful, well-respected executive or C-level leader who sets this initiative as a key priority. The sponsor is involved in the initial visioning of the project. You update and involve the sponsor periodically throughout the process. And when the project is completed, you present the results.

Assuming the project is successful, this person is also your project’s most ardent champion. If you’re looking to drive organization-wide adoption of your project, you must have at least one executive sponsor.

Project Owner and Spiritual Champion

Example: Director of Customer Experience (Marketing)

This person is most likely you! You want to be held accountable for leading the visioning and managing the process. If project management isn’t something you excel at, enlist someone who can mind calendars and task lists for you.

Core Team

Example: Product Marketing Manager, Head of Strategy, Head of Retail

These individuals are the project owner’s peers. They help with the heavy lifting throughout the project. Their managers might be on the steering committee.

Steering Committee

Example: CFO, CIO, COO, Head of Sales, Head of Merchandising, Head of Digital

Depending on the scale and scope of your project, it is critical for the steering committee to be a cross-functional group of senior leaders. They likely report to your executive sponsor.

Customer Ambassadors

Example: Head of Customer Experience, Data Analytics, or Customer Service

If not already represented, include someone who intimately understands the attitudes and opinions of your customers. It could be your head of customer analytics or, if you are transforming an internal product or process, it could be an end user.

For example, are you overhauling your customer service team’s training platform? Involve at least one customer service associate in the redesign.

Council of Makers

Example: Head of Product, UX Leader, External System Integrator, External Design agency

Because you probably aren’t executing the solution on your own, consult with the groups who are expected to do the work.

For example, if part of your solution involves creating an app, alert your developers, UX lead, and product manager. If you don’t have these capabilities in house, speak to external development agencies to get a sense of the timeline and budget.

Subject Matter Experts

Example: Head of Insights, Retail and Hospitality Professor, CEO of emerging hospitality startup

Depending on the focus of your innovation work, you might need to call on people who live and breathe this topic. They don’t need to be involved on a daily basis, but chatting 1:1 early on could help you learn fast. While they may be inside your organization, be prepared to look outside. Tap your network!

Pack a Parachute and Fail Softly

“But what if we fail? How do we make sure that we don’t get dinged for trying?”

Innovation work is challenging, uncomfortable, and often done in the margins of your daily responsibilities. Our approach is designed to increase your chances of success at leading innovation. However, it’s important to acknowledge that a lot could interfere with even the most perfect plan. We believe it’s important to confront the possibility of failure with your team and manager.

Here are three recommendations.

  1. Set intentions—Let your manager know your intention to take on an innovation project. Gain your manager’s endorsement and mentorship. Experimenting in secret can be fun, but most managers don’t like surprises.
  2. Set learning goals—Together with your manager, set learning goals. What could the organization learn, and what could you personally stand to learn?
  3. Secure manager commitment—Based on your learning goals, secure your manager’s commitment that you will be rewarded if you succeed and, no matter what the result, be rewarded for trying.

By having an open dialogue with your team and boss, we hope that you embark on this journey with support, encouragement, and appreciation. The confidence to persevere is built with trust, transparency, and grit—the ability to adapt or pivot better, faster, smarter—together.

Alright, let’s dive in!

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