Innovation project team dynamics theory and reality

In addition to the skills and expertise it is key to assemble a team in term of personalities. This will define the different leadership style that each member will bring along the project. Agile projects have agile leadership, regarding the context and the situation. The team will logically let emerge the most relevant leader to move the project forward at each incremental progress and pivot.

Team leadership framework at Nutopya

Maybe you learned on team management and leadership at the university. The usual curriculum includes awareness of “self” leadership style. Using personality tests, such as MBTI or Insights, you will identify if your colleagues are introverts, intuitive, logical... You will learn about team members personal and leadership brand, where their skills meet their values.

Some tools like the Johari Window model will tell you about your Open area known by self and others, your Blind area unknown by self but known by others, your Hidden area known by self but unknown by others and your Unknown area unknown by self and others. It is amazing how people learn about themselves when joining an innovation project team. One of the main learning is to depend on others while being constrained by time and resources.

How to deal with constant challenge/criticism on ideas in an uncertain search space. It is key for facilitators who support the innovation project team to help them dealing with feedback, open the conflicts and remain neutral. There are few theory that can help. First Reject by separating the content: about action not person, then Defend by clarifying. When the situation is well understood it is time to Explain, help others to understand without starting to justify. You also need to Understand what they think, listen, apply their advises, keep them motivated. Then you can Change, it is time to make your choice and acknowledge others for their useful contribution.

Here are two methods for giving receiving feedback:

BOOST > Balanced: Not one way, answer expected > Observed: No opinion only facts > Objective: True > Specific: use example >Timely: at the time of facts

COIN > Context — What context when happens > Observation — Specific facts of behavior > Impact — what happen to the results of the team > Next — Suggestions

Most of team dynamic starts with positioning of individuals among each others. Conflicts can arise when the relationship is not equilateral. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to clarify roles and reestablish the right balance. The theory of transactional analysis is dedicated to clarify those relationships. Developed by Eric Berne, the concept mainly introduces three ego states Parent, Adult, Child and their complex relationship. The ultimate goal being setting a relation from Adult to Adult when sometimes it has drifted into Parent to Child disequilibrium.

The team dynamic is eased by common motivation. We can create a successful environment by offering joint and positive vision of future, a pride of belonging to it, more interest in the daily job, learning opportunities, professional status like Entrepreneur in Residence, career perspectives helping bridging with other business units and functions. But one of the most importance of the team success is to create an excellent working environment atmosphere that emphasize quality relationship and well-being.

Innovation project teams will need to compensate individualities fighting for their ideas with team consensus to select the best one and the most likely to succeed. Consensus is a shared decision for success. It works in small group of maximum 5 people. Consensus need to be addresses in an exceptional manner and mainly for high commitment such as a stage gate or a milestone in the project. Consensus need a leader with legitimacy and authority, in particular to empower others. In consensus, decision rules are defined first and applied rigorously. No “margin of maneuver” after decision will be accepted. Therefore it is a long process that require review of opinion, challenge / ask questions and precision. When the final decision is taken, everyone must commit to it.

In a diverse team, leaders will emerge but to keep the fast pace of the innovation project, the leadership style should be adapted to the situation. In this regard, collaborator having high or low competence or commitment will not receive the same feedback. Leader would alternate behaviors, supporting for high competence but low commitment, coaching for low competence and low commitment, delegating for high competence and high commitment and directing only for low competence and high commitment. The relationship between individuals in the team should always target a collaborative mode of working. The theory of Thomas-Kilmann introduces relationship between self (assertiveness) and others (cooperativeness). Only the collaborative work allows a high satisfaction of self with others. Other situations lead to conflicts, the worst being an avoiding position when you low yourself and others. Compromising between self and others will not lead to performance. Finally, when the relationship is unbalanced, competing or accommodating both lead to future conflicts and reduce engagement of the team members.

Collaboration needs time and each party to reconsider their initial position. If you try to sell your idea, maybe accept to deviate to something that works with others and embrace the novelty and energy from others team members. It is not the best idea that win, it is the best execution and this requires motivation from all parties.

The difficulty with conflict is that it escalates silently. The theory from Lencioni explain well the different stages. The lack of clarification between team members will contribute to the escalation of conflict. It often start with the absence of trust which takes time to build (project team don’t invest sufficient time at the beginning). Then comes the fear of conflict with avoidance of confrontation, people often forget to challenge the project and not the person. The more dysfunction comes with desengagement and lack of commitment. Often seen as blame of others, team escalate conflict by avoidance of accountability. Then it is too late, everyone is focused on his own task and don’t look at others contribution. This inattention to other team members results is a sign that colleagues are not working as a team anymore. There is no more joint effort neither same direction.

It is key to clarify and have team dynamics sessions with open questions: What went well ? What contribution ? What reaction ? What could be different ? What was already tried ? What should be changed ? What is urgent now ? What did you learned ? Where do you improve ?


I conducted this reflexion recently. Looking back at the difficulties and drawbacks I experienced while doing venture creation, seeking to engage collaborators around common projects.

By self-reflecting and looking for improving my practice, I try to see how can we improve team dynamics in fast pace and constrained innovation project.

This is particular useful for my new role in our corporate incubator where we have talented team dynamics specialist who help us to onboard team. We recommend having regular workshop where team communicates. We invest in team building and team spirit to help developing trust and respect for acceptance of criticism. We emphasize, when needed, team consensus for decision. In addition, the role of facilitation as a leadership style is to raise the team confidence helping them to gain in efficiency.

Here, the facilitator can help recognize success, empower team members to take ownership, help them to refocus. He is also the right person to help individually each team member when it comes to organization and prioritization, reducing stress under uncertainty … as well as reflecting positiveness, emphasizing, supporting and valorizing their position and decision for their motivation to flourish.

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