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12.06.2013How To Build Teams That Innovate

Designing new systems or products is typically a team rather than individual effort.


Chris Howells, Forbes.com

By Manuel Sosa, INSEAD Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management

When assembling a creative team it’s the quality rather than frequency of familiarity that counts.

Designing new systems or products is typically a team rather than individual effort. Putting together a group of people to maximise the generation of new ideas is the most challenging job an innovation manager can have, but one that’s often conducted in an ad hoc manner rather than taking into account how an organisation actually works.

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Managers who take the time to analyse the quality of past communication between staff members and the creative output this generates, will form teams with higher creative team familiarity, better able to produce innovative results.

Findings from research reported in the paper  Assembling Creative Teams in New Product Development Using Creative Team Familiarity (written in collaboration with Franck Marle from École Centrale Paris) have outlined a structured approach to identifying potential team members with maximum creative team familiarity.

1. The first step is to map out the social network – both formal and informal – within the organisation; recognising and assessing how people communicate with each at work, and how familiarity between members is happening. In many cases work-related interaction may happen spontaneously. Capturing this “snapshot” can be a matter of analysing the social network of the organisation most of which is now facilitated by information technology systems.

2. Measure creative dyadic interactions. This is crucial to capturing the quality of task-related interactions between potential team members and can be achieved using a dyadic question, asking recipients whom they go to for information and the ease with which they generate potentially creative ideas.

3. This information should then be mapped out and used to identify candidates for creative teams. There are many clustering algorithms available to facilitate this task. We have developed one that more specifically identifies the set of individuals in the organisation that would form a team (of a given size) with maximum creative team familiarity. The output of this step would allow managers to visualise not only the configuration of the suggested creative team but also the links between such a team and the rest of the organisation.

Once the information is gathered managers can easily see the people who should be put together, taking into consideration a balance of diversity and similarity of knowledge backgrounds, availability, expertise and connections between departments.

4. Finally it is up to innovation managers to visualise the potential of the new organisational structure, how the new team will co-exist with existing organisational groups including the number and quality of links both within the team and with other groups in the broader organisation.

The challenge of assembling creative teams is not trivial but has not been fully addressed in the past, partly because of the perceived conflicting forces driving creativity. Our approach avoids teams based solely on traditional criteria – the diversity of team member’s backgrounds, how well members get along and how long teams have been together – and takes a closer look at the history of social interactions in the organisation. It won’t solve the challenge and complex decisions associated with putting together successful creative teams but it will help.


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