Is it necessary to have a dedicated innovation team?

A dedicated innovation team can bring focus and relevance to an organisation’s innovation output but can also stifle the creativity of other employees across the organisation. Here we discuss whether it is necessary to have such a team and whether it would benefit your innovation strategy.

Charlie de Rusett
by Charlie de Rusett
Innovation team

Although it may not be an option for smaller businesses, larger corporations are faced with the decision of whether to allocate a dedicated innovation team to harbour their innovation output. It is a difficult question to answer, as there are many conflicting opinions within the realm of how innovation management should operate. Does a dedicated team mean that other employees will lose responsibility for innovation? On the contrary, will a team motivate them to participate? How would such a team operate to ensure collaboration not isolation?

“As soon as you have an innovation department you’re buggered” – Caroline Norbury, CEO of Creative England

A bold statement but one that is worth considering in context. Norbury believes that a dedicated innovation department encourages the perception that creativity and technology are separate entities, when really they need to be considered under the same umbrella. This may be true of an innovation department that is completely separate from the remainder of the organisation but this does not have to be the case. Much of whether an innovation team would work for you rests on how the team is constructed and the way in which they operate and interact with the remainder of the organisation.

There are a myriad of ambiguities to be settled before making a decision whether to introduce such a team and in this post we will attempt to deconstruct the pros and cons.

Innovation is everybody’s job

We often talk about how innovation must be an all-inclusive process that should span all departments and hierarchies within an organisation. Limiting involvement with the idea generation process to a select few is missing the point of innovation. The field for ideas should be as wide and open as possible in order to bring together a range of backgrounds and perspectives. So if innovation is everybody’s job, surely there is no need for a dedicated innovation team?

The trouble with stating that innovation is everybody’s job is that such an attitude can be used as an excuse for leaders to adopt a hands-off (translation: lazy) approach to innovation. Yes, innovation should be the responsibility of everyone in the company but it is unrealistic to expect employees to crack on without some form of direction. The phrase ‘everyone is responsible’ is taken to mean ‘no one is responsible’ all too often.  An innovation team can alleviate these issues, acting as a source of guidance and example-setting.

Announcing that everyone must contribute to the innovation process is easy enough but there needs to be a system in place to actually facilitate company-wide involvement. This is where an idea management software can help. Implementing a platform on which ideas can be collected and curated will make it easy for employees to have their say. Those lightbulb moments rarely happen in front of your computer in the office; ideas are usually sparked in more relaxed environments, away from work or pressure. Accordingly, accessibility is key and the right software will allow staff to share ideas whenever and wherever without the need for approval from a dedicated team.

Obtaining the right balance of structure

There is an argument to be had about the importance of removing all structure to allow the free-flow of ideas. Although we are great believers that too much structure can stifle creativity, we also understand that there needs to be some processes in place. Here it is about striking the correct balance and an innovation team can help to achieve this.

An innovation team will be able to ensure that any necessary processes are implemented to help capture ideas and incentivise employees. It is important to position this team as mentors and ambassadors, rather than adjudicators. Their job is to guide the process and provide the parameters within which innovation can thrive. This will keep your innovation strategy in line with corporate goals and will ensure both participation and relevance.

Innovation needs ownership

Ultimately, an innovation team is about appointing ownership of the process. Without allocated responsibility, it is all too easy for innovation to be put on the back burner whilst everyone goes about their daily office routine. We do not believe it is necessary to have a dedicated innovation team, whose sole purpose is to man the organisation’s innovation strategy. In fact, we have worked with many successful and innovative companies with no such department.

However, what we have learnt is that innovation needs ownership of some form. If this requires a dedicated innovation department then sobeit, but it is not necessary. Appoint ambassadors to champion the process and ensure that the appropriate systems are in place to facilitate company-wide innovation. These ambassadors need to be carefully chosen and must be well-positioned to act as a role model and mentor. Give people the tools and the incentive to innovate and you will see results.

Key takeaways

  • Remember that although innovation is everybody’s job, staff still need guidance and leadership to ensure it does not get neglected.
  • An innovation team can help establish the appropriate balance of structure by providing the necessary systems and parameters for it to function, whilst leaving the field open for ideas to be generated and shared.
  • Appoint ambassadors to champion innovation, rather than allocating a department; although if you do establish a dedicated innovation team then ensure they are not isolated from the other departments and find ways of encouraging collaboration.

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