The Benefits of Teams in a Culture of Innovation

BLOG POST | May 24, 2018
Courtesy of City of Red Wing, MN

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people."

– Steve Jobs

Foregoing the business aspect of his quote above, Steve Jobs, a man often cited as the sole instigator of innovation during his time at Apple, has clearly laid out the real impacts of teams very succinctly. His staff, the people he surrounded himself, his team, helped drive the innovations developed. In a previous post, we looked at a way teams develop over time, squaring away their differences and eventually, if given enough time and coordination, begin to produce great work. But let’s get to a bigger, core question.

Why do we even need to form teams?

Why not work individually? What’s the purpose? These questions are more connected to the core tenets of innovation discussed in the Innovation Academy than you may believe. For us, they go hand in hand.

At the broadest level, the whole organization is your ‘team,' all working towards broad strategic goals. So is your department. It’s all about moving towards the same goals.  Think sports, where they all more or less headed to a literal goal.

The teams we really want to look at today are the smaller ones, where relationships can form and day-to-day engagement builds trust. Think of it as starting at the smallest unit and scaling up from there with what you learn. Building smaller, cross-functional teams in an organziation can spark creativity in new and unique ways, and also identify opportunities for innovation that may have been previously unseen. Ultimately, we want to be at a place “…where the combined effect of the team is greater than the sum of individual efforts. Working together a team can apply individual perspectives, experience, and skills to solve complex problems, creating new solutions and ideas that may be beyond the scope of any one individual." [1]

But if the sports comparison is apt, then how does your local government innovation team ‘win’, especially since they are so focused on the strategic and operational side of things. Success is then “…to continue to produce quality work and provide continued value to the [organization]." [2]

Here are some of the most common themes for answering the big ‘why:'

  1. The Whole > The Parts
  2. Encourages multi-disciplinary work
  3. It’s a workplace motivator
  4. “Promotes flatter and leaner structures, with less hierarchy”
  5. Adaptability and responsiveness to change [3]

Now, there may be others, but these listed, in a broad sense, capture many of major themes.  Other than number 3, all contribute to developing a culture of innovation, though even that is argulaby just as important.  Ultimately, teams excel at allowing the ‘flow of ideas,' and then translating those ideas to actionable improvements, projects, and programs. [4]  They nearly encapsulate the total process of innovation, from ideation to execution, making teams an invaluable aspect for any organization.

As we continue to explore and share these ideas around innovation and teams. We want to hear from you! What are some ‘team’ lessons you have learned from your experience? What makes a great team?

If you are intrigued and would like to build a cross-functional team of innovation ambassadors in your organization, check out the Innovation Academy program or email academy@transformgov.org to learn more (enrolling teams now through June – cohort starts in August!)

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