16: Grok the gestalt of teams

If you're going to get innovative stuff done in the world, odds are you're going to do it with other people.    If you haven't looked out the window lately, we're living in an ever more connected and interdependent world.  If there ever was a time for lone inventors to thrive, this is not it:  smart, action-oriented, high-EQ, multidisciplinary, interdependent teams are uniquely positioned to take on the broad, systemic challenges so in need of innovative thinking today. 

So if you're going to do remarkable stuff, you've got to learn to grok the gestalt of teams.

There's an entire literature on effective team roles and dynamics that I won't go in to here, but based on all my years of battling on the front lines to bring new stuff in to the world, here are a few of my favorite insights in to behaviors that make for exceptional teams:

  • Build it out of T-shaped people:  an effective innovation team is composed of people who are really good at what they were put on earth to do, but also share a common way of getting things done in the world.  We want depth: an engineer needs to be an engineer's engineer, and we want the MBA to be capable of unlevering a beta in her sleep.  But we want breadth, too.  We need them both to not only get along, but to thrive in a symbiotic relationship centered on getting stuff done.  In my experience, what adds that breadth to a team is a group of individuals who are versed in the ways of design thinking. 
  • Know thyself, and let everyone else know, too: a high-performing team is no place for posturing or secrets.  If you're good at something, we want to know so that we can you let you be the lead on that.  And if you're not so good at something, we want to know that too so that we can help you get better, or keep you from wasting time on that front.  The way this happens is for individuals to be proactive about disclosing this information through the course of the life of a team.
  • Be friendly, because the networked world is your oyster:  imagine how powerful your small team could be if it were part of a vast network of experts and people wanting to contribute to your success, if only you'd ask.  Well, guess what?  Via the marvels of modern technology, you're already there.  Need someone to hack some code?  How about a coder in Bangladesh?  Need an expert on nanotubes?  Find her on Twitter.  Need some help with that marketing plan?  Why not befriend that VP that occasionally strolls by your team space?  The network your team needs to hit the remarkable zone is already there waiting to be asked.  Be friendly and invite those folks in.  Because they want to be on the team, too.

These are only a few points.  What matters to you when it comes to being part of an effective innovation team?  I'd love to hear.

As the cliched saying goes, "there's no 'I' in team"  (and you never want to be at the receiving end of the saying "there's no YOU in team", but I digress…), so get out there and grok the gestalt of teams.  Be the team, good things will happen.

This is number 16 in a series of 21 principles of innovation.  As always, your comments, thoughts, and ideas are most welcome.