Innovation rewrites the rules for collaboration across teams

An ongoing upheaval in the way people give and engage requires us to find innovative approaches. The question is, who should do the innovating? Operations is better known for policies, process, and compliance than creativity and smashing things, while other teams have great ideas but err when making decisions related to technology.

Dysfunction occurs when one team has its foot on the gas and the other has its foot on the brake. Two adverse results seem likely: 1) Ops gets its way, and slows down good ideas or kills them completely, or 2) Ops doesn’t get its way, and projects plow ahead without regard for process, compliance, or risk.

Either way, innovation fails in the long run.

In the past I’ve been attracted to the notion of a “skunk works” team, separate and liberated from all the rules and cautious incremental improvement that hinders innovation. Small, disruptive teams have done wonders for some corporations; Lockheed coined the term skunk works and achieved success with it back when the company was an aircraft manufacturer.

In more recent times, however, corporations have found skunk works teams produce great, one-time ideas but not continuous, company-wide innovation and execution. These days, when everything is being disrupted, organizations need to execute on the core basics and keep inventing new products and approaches.

I’m not sure it’s true that innovation must be defined as entrepreneurial disruption smashing an Industrial-Age mindset concerned with efficiency, standardization, and process. This might be true of whole industries or monster-sized corporations forced to reinvent themselves. It’s a bad way to think of the work of our relatively small Advancement teams.

We can align our mindsets better than that. Would it not be ideal if the two forces were integrated and part of the way the organization runs? The answer for Advancement might be to adopt new rules for collaboration across teams.

For investments in engagement technologies, for example, would it make sense to form a small team made of equal parts marketing, engagement, and operations and give it ownership of that ecosystem? Given a clear mandate to execute on Advancement’s well-defined strategy, such a team could enjoy the creative autonomy of a skunk works to innovate over the long term.

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