The four characteristics of innovative teams

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Date published
June 15, 2020
Innovative teams can solve the kind of complex challenges that Ranglers thrive on.

Innovation is an easy concept to talk about, and a hard directive to deliver on. For Rangle, innovation happens when you’re finding achievable business value. Our practice requires innovative teams to solve your problems, made up of our experts and your business leaders and practitioners.

Building innovative teams starts with creating the conditions where they can thrive. The four characteristics described below cannot happen in an organization that’s traditional, hierarchical, and resistant to change. You have to break down the barriers to create real change. Here’s how we do it:

An innovative team is comprised of four traits that lead to successful, remarkable outcomes for your organization.

Immersed in the mission


Bringing a new idea to market requires obsession. Team members need to be singularly focused on the goal of their project, and can’t be sidetracked by other business needs. Eliminating distractions for practitioners can feel a bit like an endless game of whack-a-mole for the team member and their people manager, especially if the person is talented and high sought-after by other areas of the business. However, every team member’s focus on the project is essential for the best outcomes.

To maintain the necessary focus, all members of the team need to buy-in to the mission, regardless of hierarchy. This doesn’t imply strong-arming—rather, a diplomatic agreement and shared understanding of goals. If one person doesn't believe in your mission, it can lead to potential blockers, delays, and even complete cancellations. Teams do their best work together. Great management creates the conditions for teams to gel.

As part of our engagements, Rangle uses frameworks and collaborative mapping exercises that promote inclusivity, where everyone on the team has a voice and their opinion are of equal value. This fosters cohesive thinking and strengthens the mission to ensure success.

For teams to be immersed, they must understand the problem, challenge or goal as a collective. This may sound obvious, but getting everyone from different levels of the organization and cross-functional business units aligned on what’s most important is a tall order (and it can’t be done with a few slides during a single meeting). Each team is bound to have its own priorities, and that’s okay. The kick-off exercises mentioned above are designed to get all those competing goals on the table so they can be discussed, understood and fused to create a single mission.

In this setting, asking the right questions can sometimes be difficult, especially when the mission is unclear. That’s why we spend time establishing the team norms and mission. Getting that clarity is critical, and instrumental in the discussions and decisions that will follow.

For teams that are struggling with immersion, there are often two critical mistakes: A lack of experience in prioritizing and planning what the team should be doing first, next and later, and an inability to filter what information is impactful and what is irrelevant. This can include new data, market trends, industry changes and competitor analysis.

When teams are immersed in the mission, and led by experienced delivery practitioners and product managers, these problems become easier to solve. A laser-focus on the mission guides their decision making. These teams are able to frame the end state of the project in an outcome-focused way. This allows for the flexibility to withstand market changes and a fluctuating industry without derailing the project.

Capable at speed

Rangle is about speed to value. Anyone can be fast, as we are: Our teams iterate to deliver value through pushing code weekly on client engagements. What makes Rangle different, however, is that speed to value requires direction and understanding. The value is defined in the mission statement, and teams that are capable at speed align to that. In this way, we work quickly, with quality, so our clients get regular results and the project team gets ongoing feedback.

This process is demonstrated and defined in our newest method, Rangle Go.

The method involves an iteration process that averages six weeks, building the plan for core features and functions directed by the desired outcomes of the client. The goal is immediate feedback that can validate theories or hypotheses and turn them into the project’s facts. The short timeframe means a reduced risk of costly mistakes or overall failure. In fact, this method allows the team to fail without risk. They fail fast, learn, and adjust to keep working towards the goal. It also allows for real innovation and ignites the passion in the team to do their best. The motivation becomes a domino effect where speed to value is a core cultural value for the team, and both the client and the end users benefit.

Cross-functional

For teams to be successful, they need to recognize and draw on everyone’s expertise. Leveraging everyone’s talent makes a better product. The second part of being effective at cross-functional is keeping all stakeholders involved and regularly seeking their input. This prevents bottleneck or reworking at critical points in the project that can happen when stakeholders haven’t had the opportunity to give their feedback.

We work with the mindset that cross-functional goes beyond just the definition. It's the ability to empower the team to work together towards the outcome, in agreement on what everyone wants to achieve and what everyone will do to get there. This means there are no lines in the sand. You’ll never hear, “This isn't my job so I can't do it." Instead, the team sees where they can assist one another. If you have the knowledge to move the project forward, you do it wholeheartedly and without question.

It's also about knowing when to ask for assistance, and having the humility to know when a problem is outside your area of expertise. This humility extends to keeping all stakeholders informed and accountable to each other in order to achieve the stated outcomes.

A truly cross-functional culture has a "no-fear" mentality. This includes not being afraid to fail, which creates the conditions where innovation thrives and in turn leads to speed to value. Obviously, this kind of culture is not easy to create, and requires intentionality to maintain. At Rangle, we embody this mentality—it's table stakes in all our discussions, and practically an unspoken norm amongst Ranglers. Therefore, organically cross-functional teams form without question. To create this kind of innovation, start by removing penalties for failing, and rewarding the courage required to try, try again.

Rarely blocked

The above practices keep everyone on the team pulling in the same direction. Everyone’s buy-in means that roadblocks are addressed quickly, because key players can remove obstacles for the project team to keep them moving. The team’s cross-functional nature also ensures that they rely on each other to complete the work and break down communication barriers.

Nothing is perfect, and there will always be challenges. It just depends where. If the above steps are done well, most of the blockers might surface at the team or individual level. However, being a high-octane performing team can easily unblock those challenges.

Key considerations to reduce blockers are:

Accountability: When everyone has skin in the game, it makes it easier to get to work to unblock challenges as they surface.

Urgency: How important is it? What’s important to everyone will resolve more quickly. Building urgency and creating understanding for the urgency is the key to being unblocked.

Empathy: Being a team player and understanding team or individual blockers leads to compassion and shared focus on speed to value. Empathy doesn’t just belong at the delivery team level—it includes stakeholders, regardless of seniority. A commitment to supporting the team all the way through the project will result in fewer blockers and better goal alignment.

Innovation is a creative and complex world where risks are rewarded, but success may come after a string of failures. Partnering with an organization that can guide these transformative innovation practices makes for better cultural and business outcomes. What could you do with an innovative team? Let’s talk about your goals.

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