Intrapreneurers Wanted: 5 Tips for Teams Built to Innovate

Written by Misti Yang, Contributor for Lean Startup Co.

Jyoti Shukla knows how to start small and dream big. When she began working for Nordstrom in 2014, she had a team of two. Today, as the Senior Director of User Experience, Jyoti supports a team of over 30 designers, researchers, and writers committed to creating a seamless user experience for the retailers’ customers. Prior to Nordstrom, Jyoti managed technology initiatives for Starbucks, where she lead the team that developed the myStarbucks mobile application from inception to delivery, a team that also started out with just a few great minds.

With over 10 years of experience working collaboratively to develop groundbreaking solutions for customers, Jyoti understands the challenges and rewards of creating new teams. “My number one piece of advice for anyone looking to build teams is to be very curious and connected with people, both customers and team members,” Jyoti shares. “Ensure you are always a listener, listening to the rhythm of how the customer is shifting and connecting with your people on a regular basis to coach and mentor them.”

Here are five additional tips from Jyoti on managing teams tasked with dreaming up and executing innovative solutions.

  1. Start by identifying core values for your team.

According to Jyoti, outlining the key principles you want to guide your efforts will help you find productive team members and stay on track. This initial step can be just you or a few initial team members jotting down the vision of what you want to accomplish and how you want to get there. “Ask yourself, ‘What kind of culture are you hoping to create?’ Is it highly interactive? Is it an ideation culture?,” Jyoti suggests.

2. Find the right people by asking the right questions.

“At Nordstrom, we typically take [potential team members] out to coffee, and start by asking, ‘What drives you?’” This is just one question that Jyoti thinks is important to ask in order to find individuals who are the best fit for an intrapreneuring team. “Individuals who love to deliver are really important, but you also want people who like to have fun and have a sense of excitement,” Jyoti remarks.

You also want to be sure that people are comfortable with ambiguity, which sometimes happens by accident in Jyoti’s experience: “I once interviewed somebody and none of the technology was functioning, and she made lemons into lemonade. She was like, “I have my laptop ready,’ etc. She was unwavering. We tested her without even really trying.” But if serendipity doesn’t provide the perfect assesment, create exercises or questions to suss out interviewees’ ability to be flexible.

Lastly, invite folks to share past work with you. Having them communicate about projects they’re proud of is an opportunity to learn about their work style and to experience firsthand what engages them. Jyoti is always looking for collaborative-minded individuals who are naturally curious about the customer experience.

3. Ask your team what matters to them.

Once assembled, Jyoti believes that your number one opportunity as a leader is inspiring innovation. “It is the most exciting part of my job — to inspire my team,” she says, and it starts by asking her team what matters to them. “It is different for every team. Some really like camaraderie. Some teams are inspired by technology and want to push the envelope, and some are all about failing fast and getting to market.” Once you identify what makes your team tick, you can incorporate that into the daily culture.

4. Be driven by a relentless customer focus.

“When your team has a great idea, the first thing to do is to be sure you are solving a customer problem,” Jyoti says. The perfect example is website navigation, which she has tackled everywhere she’s worked; she says she started off with the wrong idea every time, too. “We assume customers know what we’re talking about, and then we put it in front of customers, and they interpret it in a different way,” she explains. This is just one example of how having a dialogue with customers leads to better solutions.

5. Lead during a difficult time.

When a team is expected to deliver innovation and drive change, Jyoti believes that tough times are inevitable, but she also thinks that there is no better time to solidify a successful team. “Whenever there is an opportunity to lead during a difficult time, jump in and take it. It will make your team grow. You will find entrepreneurship in a new way,” Jyoti advises. “And anyways, who wants to work somewhere where it is easy?”

Join us at Lean Startup Week October 30th-November 5th, where Jyoti will share more insights on building teams. Register for your pass before August 31 at midnight PT to take advantage of our August Special.

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