How to Manage a Frustrated Innovation Team

How to Manage a Frustrated Innovation Team

Many executives talk a lot about innovation, but they don't really know how to make it happen. A corporate innovation team asks themselves: How do we "educate" our executives on innovation management and develop stronger corporate innovation capabilities together?

Here you get some of my perspectives on what they should have in mind and do next.

First, understand what is your problem. Do you have executives who acknowledges that they are not as strong on innovation management as they should be or do you have executives who think they know innovation management - but don't. You need different approaches for the two and the latter is more difficult and sensible than the former.

Next, understand why your executives do not get innovation. Building on the above, there is there is too much talk and too little real action in either case. The key reasons are lack of education and experience on innovation management, being too far away from the real work of innovation and too much focus on the day to day business.

Executives need to have skin in the game. You need to have a couple of executives on your core team which is responsible for making things happen. Don't turn this into a talk, talk committee. It has to be action driven and people needs to hold real responsibility for the success.

Executives listen to their peers; not to you or external advisors. The most effective way to influence your executives is through people they can relate to and respect. Their peers. Your job is to create the situations where they learn from their peers, but in a way where you still control the content and the messages.

Work with HR - when/if they are ready. Most HR teams lack a strategic role when it comes to corporate transformation, digitalization and innovation. This is a paradox as everyone agrees that people is the key element for this. This has to change and you need to help them upgrade their capabilities in this context. If successful, HR becomes a powerful partner as they have a strong influence on corporate training including the executive level.

Don't go full frontal with the learning activities. Use the next 3-6 months to influence the executives by sharing short pieces of information and insights that fit their specific situation and objectives. Build further on this to help them develop their own ideas on how innovation can help their personal agendas. Then, develop a program to upgrade their mindset, skills and toolbox (and for their key people and teams). Make it action driven.

Align your efforts to the corporate strategy. Executives need to think of innovation as a tool to reach the goals stated in the corporate strategy - short, mid and long-term. If you don't know the corporate strategy - or even better - have influence on it, you need to fix it.

Know your mandate - and change it if needed. Have your team been given a real mandate for your innovation efforts? Do you have processes in place to solve the inevitable conflicts between day to day activities and your innovation/future efforts? Make up how far you are willing to go if the mandate is not clear nor enforced. Maybe you are at the wrong place?

Is your team ready? You and your team colleagues need to ask yourself two questions. Do I/we have what it takes to lead our company on this corporate transformation and innovation journey? Think in terms of mindset, skills and capabilities. Next question. Do I/we have a process that keeps us sharp on corporate transformation and innovation? Too many teams invest too little in their own capabilities.

Talk less about innovation and remove the Chief Innovation Officer function. This one can sound a bit strange and counter-intuitive, but the less we talk about innovation as a term and more about "just" doing business in better ways, the more likely you will be to succeed. The reason is the lack of a corporate understanding of and language around innovation. And while we are here; the CEO - and the rest of the executives - should be in charge of innovation rather than giving this role to a Chief Innovation Officer.

Work the key stakeholders. Know your stakeholders (most relevant executives, key people in business units and functions, key external partners). Are they backers, blockers or neutral towards to your initiative and efforts? Why? You need to master stakeholder management to make this work.

Know the TBX. T as in top-down - nothing happens if the top executives (in particular the CEO) are not fully onboard. Getting the employees - B as in bottom-up - is the easy part so you don't have to spend too much energy here. You will need the energy when you work with the middle managers - X as in across the organization - as they can stop innovation efforts just by doing their job.

Let me know what you think and what you would suggest a frustrated innovation team should do in such a situation.

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  • Stuart Gauntlett

    Most of us are stymied by rules, regulations and fear of failure.

  • Bill Stanhope

    Communication is vital when it comes to innovation.

  • Daniel Monk

    Organisations must continuously facilitate the sharing of knowledge and cooperation between employees regardless of their position to foster innovation.

  • Nathan Martin

    Let people proudly share their ideas with the entire team including executives to set an example for others and encourage further innovations going forward.

  • Madeleine Doutney

    Good read

  • Anna Reichmann

    Most executives are stubborn not listening to other opinions. They think they know it all. The best solution would be to change them and bring new ones that are ready to embrace change and innovation.

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Stefan Lindegaard

Leadership Guru

Stefan is an acclaimed author, keynote speaker, advisor and entrepreneur. He is a global thought leader on leadership in general and corporate innovation management in particular, he travels around the world to interact with executives and corporate innovation teams who want to take their innovation capabilities and efforts to the next level. The Silicon Valley mindset is key for this to happen. This mindset is rooted in one word: impact. By leveraging new technologies, talent, strong ecosystems, agile leadership, and ingenious approaches to business, Silicon Valley impacts entire industries in ways that shape the world. For a company to thrive—or even survive—in the next decade, its leaders will need to understand the Silicon Valley mindset and be able to put it to work. He helps executives on this through his Silicon Valley Fast Track venture. Stefan completed his entrepreneurial background in A.P. Møller Shipping School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Sloan School of Management.  For more information about the Silicon Valley Fast Track, please visit:

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