It’s not the IDEA that matters, it’s the TEAM!

Innovation is touted as the cure-all remedy for a struggling business, however most organisations fail to innovate due to the team. The foundation of successful innovation is a team composed of motivated people, fuelled by a genuine interest in the work. However, building the “perfect” team requires you to consider various other important factors too. How many members should each team have? How do you determine whether the various personalities are a good fit to work together?

We take a look at how corporate entrepreneurship teams have succeeded across various AfCE intrapreneurship programs, with our time-tested methods. 


Within the world of corporate innovation, “creativity” is often given far more credit than it deserves. Creativity consultants and facilitators have been popping up left, right and centre over the last few years selling creativity sessions to corporates. 

Creativity is probably most commonly associated with ideation. Therefore, this is a key step that a team or one of its members must fulfil, and is why Bayer – a leading pharmaceutical – trains hundreds of their employees in Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) before embarking on innovation projects. However, true innovation is the ability to commercialise (think execution) inventions (think creative ideas).

Einstein said that genius is 1% inspiration (creativity) and 99% perspiration (execution).

So, it is not necessary to have an innovation team full of creative minds that many consultants would have us believe. That is simply a starting point, and some say if you are listening to your customers problems, you will be lead to obvious ideas. 

The most successful innovators and entrepreneurs tend to share common personality traits. Corporates have widely employed the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator to classify people into profiles and results show that 70% of corporate CEO’s fit the ENTJ profile. 

While at AfCE we don’t use that test, our work at the Founder Institute similarly demonstrates that entrepreneurs worldwide share common personality traits which can be an accurate predictor of success. Therefore, focus your concerns on ensuring that each team member has personality traits that make them suitable for entrepreneurship, instead of trying to form  a team of creatives. The desired personality traits include:

  • Innovation: the ability to generate novel solutions and creative ideas to solve problems.
  • Persuasion: the ability to convince others of a direction, activity, or idea, and influence decision-making.
  • Adaptation: the ability to adjust to changes in the workplace while maintaining a positive demeanor.
  • Decision making: the ability to make high-quality decisions based on limited information.
  • Conflict resolution: the ability to bring others together to resolve conflict and reconcile differences.

The prior criteria can be detected with impressive accuracy and detail from a 30 minute online personality test, which will score an individual’s suitability for entrepreneurship within a corporate environment. 

From the results, it is evident  that innovation isn’t suited to everyone, and thus it is not recommended for corporates to adopt an “all inclusive” attitude with their programs. Realistically, anyone with creative flair can brainstorm an idea or cast an opinion on an existing idea (giving a thumbs up in the innovation software platform). However, very few have what it takes to develop and execute a new idea into a commercially viable proposition worth launching; which is what most of the innovation journey entails. This brings us back to the question: why should just anyone be allowed to join an innovation team, knowing that the chances of success rely heavily on the personality make-up of its members? 

At AfCE, we see a strong correlation between team personalities and performance. Teams with strong intrapreneurial personalities perform up to 40% better than teams who were not formed with strong intrapreneurial personalities. We can’t all be CEO’s either! 

Request your own free Intrapreneur DNA test here.

Time, Size and Mix

Time is a double-edged sword when it comes to innovation. People often never have enough time, but when they do, it gets wasted – much like with funding. We know that innovation is simultaneously everybody’s and nobody’s responsibility, therefore dedicating time to it can be tough. 

The issue of time needs to be specifically addressed, by carving it out via an official innovation program that teams can be sheltered by. These programs work best when direct reports of the participants are behind them and have essentially signed off on their employees being allowed to prioritise their innovation project for an allocated time. However, how much time is recommended?

Taking a look at other companies, 3M allowed their employees to spend 15% of their time on innovation related projects. Google, on the other hand, initially encouraged their employees to dedicate 20% of their time to innovate, which it later scaled back to apply only to certain individuals (perhaps realising that certain personalities would be contribute better than others in the longer term). At AfCE, we believe that the time invested or required by team members is dependent on what phase of the innovation process the company is at. 

If teams are completing an entry level program to establish and explore ideas, such as a Kickbox program, allocating 10% of time to innovation is adequate. At this stage, we recommend teams of two to three people, as single individuals tend to fail. Once further validation of the idea and business model is required to find problem-solution fit, perhaps via an Accelerator Program designed to support rapid experimentation, it is advisable to dedicate 20% of time to innovation, with ideally four to six team members. If teams are provided with an excess of time at this stage, it is often misused by teams investing time in non critical tasks or pursuing vanity metrics that don’t correlate to success. 

We have identified that it is only beneficial to spend more than 20% of time (up to 50% to build and test solution features using agile methodologies) during the Incubation phase. Evidence suggests that full-time teams don’t move faster than teams spending only 20% of their time at Discovery or 50% of their time at Incubation.

The majority of time wastage occurs due to a team’s failure to follow a strict enough process and consequently wander off track. Review Mapping your Innovation Journey to understand the 37 critical steps (from ideation to launch) an innovation team must go through to de-risk their venture.

During the Launch phase, the team can change entirely, as more of an “execute” mindset is required rather than a “search” mindset i.e. the business model has been established and now needs to be implemented. We have also noticed that if the original team members exit the team before Incubation and Launch, the project is likely to suffer significantly. Generally speaking, it’s always best to maintain at least two original team members involved in the project. 

Younger does not necessarily equal better, but diverse teams with skills from across departments perform better bearing in mind they are all familiar with the problem at hand. The Founder Institute has also proven that founders perform best up to the age of 45, due to the amount of industry experience they have obtained. Young college drop-outs becoming successful entrepreneurs are the exception and not the rule! 

Team Dynamics:

Once the team has been formed, a new challenge begins. How do you become a team that can work well together? What are the challenges and success factors? 

A thriving team culture is about gaining trust, having common values and purpose, understanding and appreciating each other’s varying behaviors and allowing conflicts to be constructively addressed. 

At the beginning of our innovation projects with new teams, we found it helpful to apply the Team Canvas

  • Challenge the team on your purpose: why are you doing what you are doing? 
  • Translate this purpose to one or more tangible goals. Ask yourself: what do we want to achieve as a group that is feasible, measurable and time bound? 
  • Elaborate on values and the guiding principles the team wants to adhere to. What do we stand for and what is at the core of this team? 
  • You can subsequently move onto the less fluffy side of the canvas and establish the roles for each member based on their strengths and skills. It is important that people self-select roles they feel they can contribute to and take charge of. At AfCE, our programs always include Assignments, Team Calls, Experiments, Prototype Fund and Pitch Presentation as clearly defined roles, as we acknowledge that they entail weekly tasks. 
  • Finally, create  rules and activities to help determine how you will communicate, make decisions, execute and evaluate what you do. 

When you feel that something isn’t right in the team, you’ll be able to re-visit your canvas and remind everyone on what you agreed to. Overall, when forming innovation teams, regardless of how much time they are investing in the project, you should try to adhere to the five team dynamics as widely researched by Google. Challenge yourself with the criteria we have added to Google’s dynamics to ensure you are setting your innovation team up for success. 

And lastly, as Jonathan Golden, Director of Product at AirBnB put it aptly:

“To thrive in a hyper growth environment, you need to push your ego to the background.”

With thanks to AfCE mentor Marie-Emma Vigeveno for contributing to this article. 

About AfCE:

AfCE is proven to reduce the failure rate of innovation programs by two thirds, and its mentors have created more than $35 billion worth of innovation projects worldwide. From providing educational content and mentoring to prototype funds and team selection tools, AfCE can support innovation teams for just one step or for every step of the way.

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