Do You Have a Cross-Functional Innovation Team?

March 16, 2018

In a recent edition of our Q&A email, we asked a question from an InnoLead member about cross-functional teams. The question:

“Have you created a cross-functional group or structure that focuses on the front end of innovation and is fully integrated (i.e., brand experts, consumer experts, product experts, etc)? I’m particularly interested in where those teams are placed under one leader, so silos can be eliminated.”

The “front end” is typically defined as the earliest stage of the innovation process, where opportunities are identified and concepts are fleshed out, before they enter a more formal development process.

We received answers readers in a variety of different industries, including technology, home care, food, and travel.

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A Cross-Functional Focus

A majority of respondents said their companies have at least one team that focuses on the front end of innovation.

  • R&D technically leads the very upfront team — though the majority of work is consumer-research-centric.
  • Brand leads the next phase, converting ideas to products and positioning and creating the business case.
  • The integrated team is together from day one to market launch.”

A technology-industry respondent answered similarly: “I’m experimenting with a few ‘growth teams’ focused on specific areas or customers for targeted growth, in lieu of the more traditional design thinking/innovation approach with a champion.”

One manufacturing-industry respondent also adds, “Our organization is set up to do ideation, creation, prototype, and early market launch. This allows us to see a complete chain and modify where necessary — whether it’s product, packaging, distribution, installation, marketing, etc. This allows us to quickly develop resolution to problems see along the development cycle.”

“We have two separate teams that cover the front end.  One team is dedicated to the base/core business and is cross-functional, reporting back to their individual silos. The other team is focused on broader ‘leap’ innovation, with the majority of the team reporting to a single individual,” says a food-industry respondent.

A Winning Team

Another technology-industry respondent offered advice:

“[The] most important point is to have a cross-functional team (Innovation, Commercial profiles), 100% dedicated. [By that] I mean not involved at all in day-to-day operations.

The other pre-requisite is to have the support of the CEO and a few key stakeholders.”

The respondent adds that people on these teams must be:

  • Open-Minded
  • Curious
  • Unconventional
  • Understand global business from end-to-end of the supply chain
  • Have experience working with external networks
  • Recognized by their peers as creative

Front-End Focus, but No Team

Everyone who responded emphasized the importance of having a mechanism or strategy for the front end, even if they did not have a dedicated team.

Some who responded saying they did not have a cross-functional team said they were either interested in the concept, or were getting outside guidance on front-end strategies.”We are a small organization, and only have about five people in marketing. I do not have an in-house team working on the front end, but I have a consultant who is helping me,” says another respondent from the retail industry.

A respondent from the hospitality industry also explains, “No, but I’m interested in that model as well and think it could be very powerful!”