6 secrets to building the best innovation team

HRM Online Article: Six secrets to building best innovation team

Adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race book, originally published in a similar format as an article online by Human Resources Media with the title ‘Why you need to be careful about competition‘.

What ingredients make an innovative organisation, and how do you create an effective innovation team?

Great Place to Work has identified the top qualities exemplified by the 100 Best Companies. Of these qualities, cooperation, commitment and trust come out as a major factors for success.

Yet, although teams may try to maintain the appearance of being a cohesive, they have often been found to conduct turf wars behind the scenes. This obviously impacts their performance, productivity, engagement — and ultimately innovation.

The best individuals in the best teams know how to work together effectively to come up with better solutions faster. They learn to ‘co-create’.

Although this term was originally used to refer to organisations working together with customers to find mutually beneficial solutions, the concept of ‘co-creation’ has now taken on a broader meaning. It now also refers to the need for individuals to be able to work together in collaborative teams to produce more innovative results in a number of different contexts.

The risks of siloed projects

Consider how competition can impact innovation at the organisation level.

For example, at one point Sony dominated the market for small music player devices, but they lost that lead to Apple. What happened?

Sony had thrived with a highly competitive culture for many years. Engineers were encouraged to outdo each other rather than work together on projects. Yet while this had worked well for existing technology and some standalone products they had produced in the past, it was destructive when it came to newer projects requiring collaboration among different divisions.

Sony’s version of iTunes, Connect, relied on five Sony divisions in both the US and Japan that typically worked in competing silos . Since the organisation was set up to compete rather than collaborate, the project was soon floundering .

Collaborative innovation in practice

As an example of how collaborative unity can be achieved, some companies that are usually arch-competitors have decided to band together to develop semiconductor technology . Companies such as TI, Intel, Motorola and AMD have come together in this way after considering the market opportunities.

Pharmaceutical companies have also collaborated around aspects of contributed their proprietary R&D work, which is usually a highly competitive space, recognising that this may help in getting a drug to market faster.

It has been suggested that the US has more recently floundered in innovation when compared to other countries because there has been a failure to keep a strong focus on the sorts of values that engender collaboration and trust.

Finland, on the other hand, has been found to have a high level of collaboration between firms, and it has risen to one of the top five innovating countries in the world according to the results in the latest Global Innovation Index.

How to foster collaborative co-creation

Co-creation at any level can be fostered through a number of effective strategies. Consider the following:

  1. Identify core values

    Strong cultural values are the starting point for getting individuals to freely share knowledge and collaborate to generate new, combined ideas in the process of innovation.

  2. Develop authentic trust

    Trust can be summed up by the following formula: Credibility + integrity + reliability + intimacy = trust. Where these qualities are understood and modelled in the organisation at all levels it is possible to build a culture of trust, which in turn will support collaboration for innovation.

  3. Build confidence to share ideas

    It has been found that the most creative teams are those who have the confidence to share and debate ideas openly rather than competing for recognition and holding back ideas for themselves. This comes from authentic trust.

  4. Provide supporting systems and structures

    Co-creation won’t just happen – your innovation team needs the right systems and structures need to be put in place to support it.

  5. Open up connections

    Trust needs to be built at all levels, both within the organisation and with external stakeholders – and particularly with clients.

  6. Evaluate

    Check if plans are floundering and failing or succeeding and thriving – and constantly retarget as needed. This will help to keep the process on track.


Gaia Grant is the co-author of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources. As a Director of Tirian International Consultancy Gaia helps to create innovation cultures for a range of international organisations (from Fortune 500 companies through to NFPs). Gaia is a keynote speaker and an HD researcher and lecturer at Sydney University Business School. For more information see https://the-innovation-race.com.


  1. Breen, B. (2004). the 6 myths of creativity. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/51559/6-myths-creativity
    Global Innovation Index https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
  2. Hansen, M. T. (2009). Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity and reap big results. Boston, MA: Harvard Business school Publishing
  3. Longbottom, J. (n.d.) Collaboration among mutually dependent players is required to achieve large scale change in a ground transport system. Texas A&M University. Retrieved from https://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/longbottom.htm  
  4. Miles, R. E. (2007). Innovation and leadership values. California Management Review, 50(1): 192-201.
  5. Rose, F. (1994). The civil war inside Sony. Wired. Retrieved from  http:// archive.wired.com/wired/archive/11.02/sony_pr.html   
  6. Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York, NY: Doubleday, p. 24

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