The Top Three Myths About What Makes an Innovative Team

Kyle Nel
Nov 21, 2019

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.” Similar to this frequently cited quote by Albert Einstein, different types of decision-making require unique forms of reasoning, and the same holds true while making key business choices.When it comes to deciding how to form an innovation-capable team, there are a slew of beliefs circling around Silicon Valley and beyond about the best way to approach this, many of which were formed intuitively. The challenge is that most hunches about the ingredients of high-performing innovative teams are often based on suspicion alone, rather than a deeper examination of the true factors at play. These hunches may lead to one-off wins, but will not drive repeatable, sustainable, and successful innovation.By the same token, a team that is not properly formed may achieve one successful project, but will not be able to replicate it or create sustainable wins over the long term—which is what most organizations are after. This applies across all teams, and within all organizational contexts, not just teams operating within innovation labs and incubators.In order for an innovation-capable team to thrive, it must be able to act as a cohesive ecosystem, with members balancing one another out and driving the whole machine forward in equilibrium. If a team is lopsided in one way or another—for example it’s great at generating new ideas, yet terrible at focused execution—you can guess what problems will arise as the project progresses.At Singularity University’s Uncommon Partners Lab, we have done considerable work to take the guesswork out of designing innovation-capable teams, and are passionate about busting myths about the true ingredients of innovative teams.In our new researched-backed and validated solution, the Chaos Navigator Platform, we have broken down the 11 personal aptitudes that are at the core of innovation and how teams can best leverage specific persona strengths across the team. This is particularly important because innovative ideas can come from anywhere within an organization, and the Chaos Navigator assessment helps structure teams for success, whether in HR, marketing, merchandising, or other departments.We’ve also debunked a lot of myths that often trip up even the most experienced leaders. I want to ensure that you don’t fall prey to one of these untested myths while building out your next team. With that, here are the top three myths to avoid when building out a high-performance, innovation-capable team.

Myth one: One great man/woman is the key to success

We’ve all experienced this before. A leader is creating incredible success in her/his team. The word begins to spread throughout the organization, and while no one has figured out how this leader achieved such great results, it does seem like the leader’s own contribution may have been the secret ingredient.A few months later when this leader identifies a bold new project, the organization is certain that as long as this individual is the team leader, all will sail smoothly. Good decision, right?Time and time again, companies fall into this trap of relying on “the one great person” for the success of a key initiative. Unfortunately, this idea that there is one great leader or one great innovator that will make any project successful is a dangerous notion. Success in any project comes from a unique mix of multiple factors.For example, it is possible that this great leader coincidentally had a team with both a Chaos Pilot (an individual capable of leading projects in uncertainty) and three exceptional Chaos Counselors (individuals able to execute relentlessly on a project within unfamiliar environments) who were central to the accomplishments of the team.The next time you hear of one great person as a solution, be wary. Most brilliant ideas and wild successes are not triggered by one great leader or one great team member but through a collective mix of individuals. Make sure that finding this mix is your focus while building out a team.


Myth two: Consolidating high performers on one team is a sure thing

Here’s another common scenario. Senior leadership at your organization has finally signed off on a new product concept that came out of an internal company incubator, and executives are ready to dedicate the needed resources.To form the team, they start plucking the top performers across different departments. Why wouldn’t they? These are the best employees; shouldn’t they be focused on the new high-potential product?Once again, this is a delicate trap. Similar to the myth of the one great person, grouping together a slew of high-performing employees will not guarantee success. Instead, it will often create an unbalanced and lopsided team that is equipped with too much of one type of talent.For a team to reach the finish line successfully, it must instead be strategically built with three key high-performing personas—chaos pilots, chaos survivors, and chaos counselors—which our research has proven are essential to successful innovation-capable teams. When any one of these personas is missing from a team it will remain in disequilibrium, unable to move forward effectively.

Myth three: Focusing on having a technical leader will ensure innovation wins

With mounting competition in the technology sector and a shortage of tech talent, now more than ever, organizations are finding themselves caught in a trap of overly focusing on having a technical leader for innovation efforts.Of course, securing top technical talent is important and a worthy objective. However, hyper-focusing on finding the best and most proficient technical leader comes with its own risks. In doing so, it’s easy to overlook the importance of finding a leader who holds the key intangible and soft skills that must also be embodied in this leadership position for sustainable team success and well-being.Alternatively, pairing uncommon partners in team leadership, such as teaming a highly developed and well-rounded team leader with a technical second in command, can achieve sustainable and replicable success, rather than immediate one-off gains.If you’re ready to start building winning teams, we invite you to explore our Chaos Navigator Platform and start a conversation with us. Together, we’ll help you maximize the value of your organization’s greatest asset: your workforce.