Post by Diego Kerner, Managing Partner for Latin America and Head of 360º Insight.

In last week’s blog, I shared learnings from a recent regional innovation project. Those learnings were focused on the WHAT: increasing the chances of getting great ideas. In this second post, we focus on the HOW: putting in place a process that motivates the team behaviours and attitudes needed for success.

Working in teams is way more difficult and requires more effort than working by oneself. But if managed well, the pay-off is much better and produces more sustainable results. Human collaboration is the art of resolving the tension between the need for belonging and the desire to express individuality. It also means managing periods of cooperation and competition. And times of stability and change.

Learning to navigate these choppy waters can help create a high performance teams that becomes a source of competitive advantage. Here are some learnings on how to do this.

1. Be ruthless when selecting the core team

Big teams can work for creating innovation ideas and options. But when it comes to driving the process and taking decisions, a big team is a recipe for disaster! There’s not enough airtime for each person to fully share a view and conversations get too long and boring.

Therefore, the very first and most important decision for a project leader is to define a tight core team. Some countries and organizational cultures -like the Latin culture I am part of- tend to over-inflate teams with the intention of getting more people involved. However, most of the time this slows down the decision process and actually reduces the quality of outputs.

Keep the core team small (c. 6-8 people) and potent, selecting the most creative minds and/or people in charge of making the ideas happen. You can seek input from and periodically update a much broader team of people.

2. Embrace constructive conflict

Personally, I’m highly suspicious of teams that exhibit no conflict on the surface. This is often an indicator of lack of trust. Don’t be afraid of conflict -it’s a sign of life and vitality! And conflict can be a source of better and richer ideas, when well managed. Passionate discussions create energy, as long as there is openness, curiosity and a bit of humour.

Everyone needs the space and respect of others to express themselves feely. And people need to be open to learn and actively listen to others, not just wait their turn to talk!. Constructive conflict can fuse different perspectives into better solutions.

3. Invite diversity. Ditch the dissidents

‘Groupthink’ is a potentially dangerous phenomenon of teams. It can be prevented by bringing in different and diverse members to stimulate new ideas and keep the team on its toes. “Individual intelligence is no longer enough; the only way to tackle complex problems is to harness the power of ‘cognitive diversity’,” as author Mathew Syed says (1).

However, once a decision is made, high performance teams get all members fully aligned, whether they originally supported the decision or not. One problem is what I call ‘dissident members’: people that just can’t get aligned, staying stuck in their own opinions. They drain energy and slow things down. My recommendation: no matter how talented they are, ditch them. And the sooner you do it, the better. You can always keep them involved, for example in a consultative role in the outside the Core Team.

In summary, great innovation projects depend on both inspiring ‘content springboards’ (post 1) and the right team attitudes and behaviours (this post). Starting with full alignment of the right team is the beginning of your innovation journey. Broad 360º insight sources can then help stimulate relevant and inspirational innovation platforms. Promising ideas can then be further elaborated and improved through open, passionate and respectful discussion leading to decisions that the whole team buys into.

I hope these two posts have given you some food food for thought to cook up your own successful innovation project. Good luck, and please do let me know how you get on!


  1. Rebel Ideas, by Mathew Syed