How to Lead Teams Through Innovation

Six-year-old rugby is a joyful game. I yell, “run faster!” while a mum next to me puts her face in her hands saying the all-time classic, “not chasing the butterflies again.” And, the kids have fun.

When kids play rugby, the pattern usually goes like this: one boy is doing the big runs, always at the right place at the right time; then, a swarm of seven to eight boys are following the ball around blindly, busy but not doing much; last, one or two boys aren’t interested in the game, and wouldn’t grab the ball even if it’s right in front of them.

The redeeming feature of six-year-old rugby is when six-year-olds play it. It brings no joy when you watch it in the office. The sad fact is that six-year-old rugby is being played all too often in the office. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report in 2012, only 9% of the workforce in Singapore are engaged, 76% are not engaged and 15% are actively disengaged.

Six-year-old rugby creep

When organisations go through innovation cycles, whether it’s coming up with a completely new customer experience or merging teams and organisations together, it pushes highly effective teams into the storming phase of team development in a heartbeat.

One minute you’re playing like the All Blacks, the next you’re playing like six-year-olds.

If the team doesn’t progress quickly back to a highly effective team, talents are left with two choices: either they remain in the status quo, going nowhere, or they get-up-and-go. Your best talent will leave.

Innovation is disruptive. When a client from the banking industry moved to a new team, the bank’s CEO told him, “I don’t want you to slow down. I want the rest (of the team) to speed up.”

When you need to innovate, how do you rally your team to fight the good fight?

Leadership is deliberate

In my view, there are three stages in an innovation cycle.

Often during innovation cycles, we fail to focus on Leadership. Teams end up jumping into Product and Service Design, burning buckets of cash, time, and people’s souls in the process.

Successful innovation is grounded in the right leadership, stops people from picking up everything that comes their way and prioritise what’s important.

How to get Leadership for Innovation right?

  • Lead with Purpose
    Get everyone operating from a shared purpose and goals. This enables every team member to know their highest contribution in achieving the goals.
  • Lead with Culture
    Culture is what your people believe and how they behave. It impacts how your team get things done in the face of uncertainty.
  • Lead with People
    The right leadership inspires people to do their great work. Their passion, purpose, and power fuels the team’s innovation.

The goal of the leadership phase is to get everyone into a “stay ready” mind set, where hard work leads, with the least resistance, to the achievement of the team’s goals.

Best to let your competitors be distracted with infighting, not you.

If you need help to move people to lead themselves and others through innovation – drop me an email.


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About Roger Grant, CEO of PERSONNA

Roger helps people unleash the force for positive change to deliver transformational business growth.

He has more than 20 years of experience leading small highly empowered teams to create innovative customer-centric tech services, including the launch of Nokia’s first enterprise mobile device support service.

Photo credit: Roger Grant

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