Taking the Guesswork Out of Designing an Innovation-Capable Team

“We needed more funding. The technical roadblocks were too complex.” 

I’ve come to learn during my career working in corporate innovation that more often than not, these easily identifiable factors are usually not the true causes that an innovation initiative failed.

Rather, it is frequently a set of human behavioral patterns that are the largest barriers to creating successful organizational innovation, which is the focus of my recent book, Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future, co-authored with Nathan Furr and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy.

These common innovation-killing behaviors can include an aversion to uncertainty, incremental thinking, and a slew of unconscious biases such as intertemporal choice bias, which makes us favor options that are immediately available rather than far-off possibilities even when they may better serve our end goal. For this reason, to have an innovation succeed, teams require more than to be given sufficient funding and the company’s top technical talent.

3 men working

Forming teams with the right stuff

Instead, teams must be strategically designed to be innovation-capable by combining the right mix of teammates who possess a unique blend of skills. These right members aren’t necessarily your high performers alone, but those who carry the skills and aptitudes that will enable them individually and collectively to remain agile, focused, and calm. This means that when they are pushing projects into unknown territory, they are ready to weather the storm that innovating brings.

How, then, do we build the right teams? How can leaders identify the members with the right mix of these skills?

This is a question we frequently hear at Singularity University’s Uncommon Partners Lab, a new division of SU that empowers organizations to create business transformation by using an array of proprietary behavioral science tools. 

To answer this question, we’ve built a professional assessment platform that enables companies and teams to drive innovation by building the right teams, identifying talent, and nurturing unique skills in employees.

Meet the Chaos Navigator

The Chaos Navigator platform is aimed at empowering both personal and business transformation. Through a rigorous and academically-validated research framework, the Chaos Navigator platform measures employees across eleven personal aptitudes that are at the core of innovation. These qualities include adaptability, leadership, risk tolerance, and openness to new ideas, to name a few. After taking the Chaos Navigator Assessment, employees learn where they fall within the Chaos Continuum, a classification mechanism that categorizes employees into personas based on their answers.

Across the Chaos Continuum are three primary personas: Chaos Pilots, Chaos Survivors, and Chaos Enablers. There are three additional personas for individuals who fall somewhere in between, such as the Budding Pilot. Here is a brief layout of the three core personas:

Chaos Pilots: Leaders in ambiguity

Chaos Pilots are capable of leading innovative projects in uncertain situations. They are not frustrated or overwhelmed by uncertainty, nor are they deterred by potential failure. Rather, they hold a unique persistence to soldier on and inspire others on their team to do so as well, even when the clarity of a final solution is not available.

Chaos Survivors: Contributors who thrive in uncertainty 

Like Chaos Pilots, Chaos Survivors thrive in uncertain situations. However, Chaos Survivors are not team leaders. Instead, Chaos Survivors bring the valuable skill of working tirelessly to solve a problem in a turbulent environment, without having to be the ones leading the way.

Chaos Enablers: Allies of innovation 

Chaos Enablers are a diverse group and usually make up the majority of members on any given team. They hold a critically important role in the development of an innovative idea by acting as the glue of a project. They are receptive to being assigned narrow tasks for the innovation and executing even when the environment around them is shifting and uncertain.

Team members discussing

Putting it all together

Part of the magic of these three personas is in how they each uniquely interact with one another—because not one of these personas alone is enough for successful innovation. A team composed only of Chaos Pilots, for example, could never succeed, nor could a team of only Chaos Enablers and Chaos Survivors. All three personas must work together.

As a result, the Chaos Navigator is not meant to be used as a one-and-done test. Once each employee is identified as a certain persona, all employees will receive targeted development programs to further nurture these skills. Managers will also review team results and receive guidance on how to structure team roles and assignments to cultivate a culture of innovation.

Senior leadership teams that leverage the platform throughout their organization will gain a broader birds-eye view of the capabilities of their workforce, such as knowing who the innovative leaders, doers, and enablers are within their company and how the dynamics differ across departments and regions.

As the role of managers and leaders evolves to meet the shifting demands of today’s leading-edge organizations, learning how to identify critical skills within a team and use that knowledge to build teams that enable successful innovations will become a core leadership skill of the future.

If you’re curious to learn how to identify these key team members in your organization, contact us to learn more about the Chaos Navigator Platform.