Innovation in business is imperative to stay viable, productive, and profitable, especially in a shrinking global market with increasing competition and rising customer demands.
It is a top priority for organizations worldwide, irrespective of their size. Organizations are trying to build high powered R&D teams to improve their competitiveness and stay ahead of the curve.
With innovation driving the world forward, organizations have realized that to have innovative R&D teams , the team members need to be ‘prepared’ for innovation.
But how can organizations create teams that deliver best-in-class products and services and out-innovate competition?
Become more customer-focused
At one time, innovation and creativity were considered interchangeable. However, creativity is a notion where ideas are not bound by experiences or paradigms. Creativity does not necessarily have to translate into higher revenue or a new customer base. But then, it becomes a wasted effort.
Innovation comes at the intersection of creativity and capitalism. It involves creating value through new ideas, new markets, and new combinations. The focus here is on ‘value’. And the customer always has to be in the heart of this value.
For innovation to drive business results, organizations have to make sure that their R&D teams develop a strong customer focus. They have to learn to be more receptive and intuitive towards anticipating customer needs and then proactively work towards creating products/services that meet and then exceed customer expectations.
Innovation cannot happen in silos. It needs collaboration amongst teams, individuals, and different stakeholders. Close collaboration is essential between the sales marketing and R&D teams, for example, to understand customer pain points, existing issues with products, customer expectations, etc.
To achieve this, organizations have to drive alignment and teamwork within the team, the department, and across the organizational boundaries. They have to create an environment where team members combine resources and put in joint efforts to achieve company-wide goals.
Drive for results and focus on end-to-end innovation
R&D teams now need to be more tenacious in their pursuit of positive outcomes. With the pace of innovation accelerating and thereby increasing competitiveness, the teams need to increase their capacity to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions for complex problems.
Focusing only on creative thinking and problem-solving is also not enough. Team members have to be programmed to actively look out and seek challenging work and avenues for innovation. They also need to have the commitment levels to ensure that deliveries happen as decided, and there is a high level of accountability towards all decisions and goals.
Being result-oriented has become imperative for innovation.
Organizations have to focus on developing teams that deliver end-to-end-innovation. This involves having high-driven team members who approach innovation methodically by leveraging customer advocacy and developing their creative and strategic thinking skills to be more future-focused.
Influence for Impact
When Steve Jobs designed the iPod, no one thought it’d be a success. However, Job’s persuasiveness made sure the product got funding and was released in the market. The rest, as we know, is history.
R&D teams have to take a leaf out of the ‘Influencer’ playbook and work on improving their influencing game. Given the number of stakeholders present in an organization, R&D team members have to learn the art of persuasion by learning how to communicate and network effectively. This involves learning how to influence not only their own team members but also those who are not a part of their team. It is all building empathy, internalizing the art of understanding, and looking at things from the lens of the other person.
Organizational leadership and leadership maturity
There’s no better way to build a team than to ‘lead by example’. Organizations need to look at the leadership acumen of their team members and identify the high-potential employees who can fill their leadership pipeline. These employees need to have not only technical R&D skills but also strong power skills.
Skills like decision making, understanding the impact of these decisions and actions on a system, communication of vision, intuitiveness to assess future market needs all become critical to building senior leaders who can effectively lead high-powered R&D teams.
Additionally, it is also important to focus on developing the leadership maturity of these teams. Helping the team members effectively manage self and relationships under stress, leading at scale, driving the leadership agenda through others, creatively applying a variety of approaches (as appropriate) for varied situations, displaying an executive presence are essential skills to develop.
Build adaptability, grit, and determination
Organizations looking at preparing R&D teams for innovation have to develop their team members’ intellectual capacity and prowess.
The teams need to be more curious towards asking questions and identifying problems. They have to become more exploratory, creative, and flexible when identifying solutions. Innovation demands adaptability. It needs people to become more responsive towards changing demands and circumstances. It involves the ability to function productively in ambiguous situations and maintaining a constructive attitude in times of stress and having the resolve to see things through till the end.
Streamlined planning, organizing, and execution
Even the most innovative ideas fail to see the light of day in the absence of planning, organization, and robust execution. Innovation teams need strong managers who can create and drive plans to implement individual projects and programs.
Team managers have to work towards driving alignment across program stakeholders. Effective communication, setting clear goals and measurement metrics, proper delegation, and smart organization assist this process. Team managers also have to identify the individual needs of their team members that impede project progress and proactively help their team members navigate those gaps, be it by coaching, training, or mentoring.
While technical skills are imperative for R&D teams to increase R&D and innovation acumen, organizations need to look a little deeper.
Having knowledge is one thing. Great outcomes only happen when this knowledge is applied in the correct and contextual way such that it creates differentiated value.
For this, R&D teams have to increase their power skills vocabulary and develop skills such as empathy (to understand customer pain points), creative and strategic thinking skills, intuitiveness, adaptability, growth mindset, and problem-solving skills amongst others.
R&D is the main source of value-generation for innovation-centered organizations. They need to identify critical skills and attributes of strong R&D teams and leaders, assess the gaps in them, and then design strong mentorship programs to develop these skills. Only then can they super-charge their R&D teams and boost their capacity for innovation.
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