Building Teams For Rapid Innovation

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In the fast-paced, ever-evolving world of business, rapid innovation is not just an advantage—it’s a necessity. Companies need to constantly innovate to stay relevant, meet changing customer needs, and gain a competitive edge. And at the heart of this process are teams. But not just any teams. To drive rapid innovation, you need teams that are diverse, collaborative, agile, and balanced in skills and roles. For this post, I’ll pull back the curtain on how to build such teams, and share some of my knowledge from years of blogging about the tech industry. 

As I’ve been around the block a few times, I know that building teams for rapid innovation isn’t about gathering your most creative employees or those who are always up-to-date with the latest technologies. It’s really about creating a rich tapestry of individuals who bring different skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. This approach is key to  fostering an environment that thrives on collaboration and welcomes new ideas. Now, let’s explore each element for rapid innovation  in detail, starting with diversity.

Table of Contents

The Importance of Team Diversity

Diversity is a crucial element in any innovative team. A team that comprises members with diverse backgrounds, skills, experiences, and perspectives is like a melting pot of ideas. This mix can spur creativity and lead to innovative solutions that a homogeneous team might not think of.

But diversity isn’t only about race, gender, or age. It also includes cognitive diversity—the differences in how people think and approach problems. A team with high cognitive diversity will have varied ways of processing information and viewing the world. This can lead to richer discussions, broader idea generation, and more innovative solutions.

A Harvard Business Review study found that cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people. This underscores the value of diversity in driving rapid innovation.

When building a team, it’s important to consider both inherent diversity (traits you are born with, such as gender and ethnicity) and acquired diversity (traits you gain from experience, such as cultural fluency or customer insight). Both types of diversity can contribute to a team’s ability to innovate and solve problems.  

While diversity serves as a crucial starting point, it only represents the first integral component. Remember the age-old adage, “There is no ‘I’ in a team,”? It will be a crucial component in the next section we are about to discuss, collaboration.

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration

Collaboration is the lifeblood of innovation. When people come together, share their ideas, and work towards a common goal, magic happens. New concepts are born, existing processes are improved, and innovative solutions are created.

To foster a culture of collaboration, it’s essential to create an environment where team members feel safe sharing their thoughts, challenging the status quo, and taking risks. This involves building trust among team members, encouraging open communication, and promoting a culture of mutual respect and inclusivity.

Moreover, it’s important to provide the tools and processes that facilitate effective collaboration. This could include project management tools like Asana, communication platforms like Slack, and regular team meetings to brainstorm ideas and discuss progress.

In addition, teams should be encouraged to embrace conflict. While it may sound counterintuitive, conflict can be healthy for a team if it’s focused on ideas and not personal. By debating different viewpoints, teams can come up with better solutions and avoid groupthink.  The best way to keep the debates fresh, is having new ideas to consider, which is where this next element comes in.

Encouraging Continuous Learning

Innovation and learning go hand in hand. Innovating requires continuously acquiring new knowledge and skills, exploring new technologies, and staying abreast of industry trends. Therefore, a team built for rapid innovation should be a learning team—one that values and promotes continuous learning.

Creating a learning culture could involve providing access to online learning resources, organizing regular training sessions, or giving team members time to pursue personal learning projects. It’s also important to encourage knowledge sharing within the team, as this not only enhances individual learning but also boosts team performance.

One thing that is often overlooked is that continuous learning requires you to be open to failure. In fact, failure should be seen as a part of the learning process. By adopting a “fail fast, learn fast” approach, teams can quickly test new ideas, learn from their mistakes, and improve their innovation efforts.

By now, you might be asking what methodology is best for innovation.

Leveraging Agile Methodologies

Agile methodologies, such as Scrum or Kanban, can be highly effective in driving rapid innovation. These methodologies emphasize iterative development, cross-functional collaboration, and flexibility over rigid planning.

By breaking down projects into smaller, manageable tasks, agile methodologies allow teams to quickly test ideas, gather feedback, and iterate on their solutions. This fosters a fast-paced, adaptive, and innovative working environment.

Agile methodologies also involve frequent reflection and adjustment. Through regular retrospectives, teams can reflect on their successes and failures, learn from their experiences, and make necessary adjustments to their processes. This continuous improvement cycle is key to driving rapid innovation.

With this overview of innovation in mind, let’s dial in on the skills needed for an innovative team.

Balancing Skills and Roles

An innovative team needs a balance of skills and roles. This includes “idea generators” who excel at coming up with novel concepts, “implementers” who bring these ideas to life, and “refiners” who optimize and improve upon these ideas.

A team that’s too heavily weighted toward one role may struggle to innovate effectively. For example, a team of mostly idea generators might come up with plenty of exciting concepts but lack the skills or focus to implement them. So how do you build a team from scratch with just the right balance that will drive innovation?  I’ve got some show and tell to share for that answer.




Idea Generators

Creative, imaginative, big-picture thinkers

May struggle with execution


Practical, focused, good at executing plans

May be less comfortable with ambiguity


Detail-oriented, analytical, good at optimizing

May be risk-averse

Case Study: Driving Rapid Innovation

Building a team for rapid innovation isn’t just theory—it’s been put into practice by many successful companies. One such example is the collaboration between TurnKey Labs, a Silicon Valley Tech Staffing Company, and Headspace, a mental healthcare platform.

Headspace was struggling to attract more top development talent locally at a fair price. They turned to TurnKey Labs to build out an R&D innovation center of excellence in Mexico. The first round of hires for this center were made within 30 days of contract signing and onboarded soon thereafter. Thanks to the early success of this initiative, plans for the center have been expanded.

This case highlights how companies can leverage external partners like TurnKey Labs to build teams capable of driving rapid innovation. ​​TurnKey offers an excellent service that handpicks and assembles tailor-made innovative software development teams for you. 

Access the top tech talent on the market

Key Takeaways

Building a team for rapid innovation involves fostering diversity, encouraging collaboration and continuous learning, leveraging agile methodologies, and balancing skills and roles. It’s not an easy task, but the potential rewards—increased creativity, faster problem-solving, and a stronger competitive advantage—are well worth the effort.

TurnKey Labs, with its expertise in sourcing developers for remote teams, can be a valuable partner in this endeavor, as demonstrated in their successful collaboration with Headspace.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is diversity important in teams for rapid innovation?

Diversity — both demographic and cognitive — brings a range of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the team. This fosters creativity, reduces the risk of groupthink, and leads to more innovative solutions.

How can agile methodologies drive rapid innovation?

Agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban emphasize iterative development, cross-functional collaboration, and adaptability. This allows teams to quickly test ideas, gather feedback, and iterate on their solutions, fostering a fast-paced and innovative working environment.

What roles are needed in a team for rapid innovation?

A team for rapid innovation needs a balance of "idea generators" who come up with novel concepts, "implementers" who bring these ideas to life, and "refiners" who optimize these ideas.

How can companies foster a culture of continuous learning?

Companies can foster a culture of continuous learning by providing access to learning resources, organizing regular training sessions, encouraging knowledge sharing, and seeing failure as a part of the learning process.

June 15, 2023

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