April 01, 2014
What Makes a High Performing Innovation Council?

Change for the better.jpg

During the past 25 years I've seen a lot of innovation councils (aka "innovation task forces") come and go. Some of them looked good at the beginning and died a slow death. Some of them looked bad at the beginning and died a quick death. And some of them actually succeeded.

Before diving in, pause, take a breath, and consider the following guidelines. They will save you time. They will save you headaches. And they may even save your company.


1. Quit now if you're not really into it.

2. Be mindful of who you invite to participate. Just because someone is a "senior leader" doesn't automatically mean they should be on the Innovation Council. If they don't have the time, passion, or willingness to push the envelope, there's no reason for them to participate.

3. Create a charter. Define tasks. Make sure everyone knows exactly what's expected of them.

4. Establish clear agreements at your first meeting. Otherwise, prepare for chaos, wheel spinning, indecision, and the corporate hoky poky.

5. Build accountability into the process. Innovation Council members, no matter how high up they are on the corporate food chain, need to keep their word to each other. No slacking.

6. Clarify the lines of communication to key stakeholders who are not Innovation Council members. Do not fall prey to the Ivory Tower Syndrome.

7. Feel free to include senior leaders on the council, but only if they really want to do the work. This is NOT a committee or a plum ambassadorship to a fictitious country called "innovation." This is a working group that really needs to be on top of its game, honor its commitments, and model the very best of what real innovation is all about.

8. Meet more often than you want to. (If you only meet once a quarter, fuggedaboutit.)

9. Make sure the person who facilitates your meetings knows what they're doing -- and is prepared for each meeting.

10. Limit the size of your Innovation Council to seven. Any more than ten and you'll have an Innovation Swamp.

11. Have a sense of urgency, not panic.

12. Celebrate your successes, even if they're small.

13. Honor confidentiality.

14. Be lifelong learners about innovation. Put together a reading list. Teach each other.

15. If an Innovation Council member starts to flake out, ask them to either step up or step out.

16. Take notes at each meeting and distribute them within 24 hours.

17. Invite non-Council members to participate in your meetings every once in a while. Don't become a cult.

18. Speak your truth to your "executive sponsors", or whoever the Innovation Council reports to. If they're not holding up their end of the bargain, you're wasting your time.

19. Communicate what you're doing to the rest of the company. Don't keep it a secret. Transparency is the name of the game.

20. Do whatever is necessary to stay inspired. All too often Innovation Councils implode under the collective weight of their own busyness, ridiculous work loads, and stress. PS: Have fun with this!

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at April 1, 2014 01:29 AM


Have the intestinal fortitude to tolerate having the official designation of "Village Idiot" bestowed on you more than once during any project....

Posted by: Jon Bidwell [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2011 03:44 PM

Very accurate tips.
I would add "let the team manage the team" and "develop co-leadership"

Posted by: NicoBry [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2011 11:30 AM

I LOVE your list.

I would add to it:

Schedule the different tasks by relative importance as defined by specialists but agree upfront to react to urgencies as defined by area managers.

Posted by: JJPEREZK [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 31, 2011 11:09 AM

Momentum is also very critical, so make sure you include activities that will sustain momentum

Posted by: Ricky Nyaleye [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2011 09:39 AM

Getting buy-in from senior management or more importantly, key influencers on the team can not be stressed enough. Strong leadership that is genuine will translate to cooperation in the creative process, while the team is in the vulnerable early stages.
As the author of two Idiot's Guides, one on acupuncture and the other on Homeopathy, I think the reference to this series is accurate. Topics that start out as buzz words and later with understanding become integrated into your main operating systems. Well done.

Posted by: David Sollars [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 30, 2011 08:09 AM

I encountered a perfect storm, having been handed an opportunity to develop a cross functional innovation team. In our medical device manufacturing environment, I was afforded the opportunity to invite production operators, engineers, supervisors, managers, warehouse operators, planners, buyers...representatives from the entire company. An assumption that I made was that our company's dedication in creating a Deming culture was actually taking root.
We followed the most of your 20 tips...even making some significant quick wins that clearly made positive difference in our work environment, even starting up a recycling program to return money to the company by selling our plastic scrap.
What I learned over a 2 year period was an increasing resistance from management. They resented front-line folks having authority to make changes. However, from what I learned from this article...I look back on this 2 year long program as being quite an accomplishment. The most important result was the professional growth of many of the team members. I had the opportunity to coach numerous of the team members in preparing their resumes and helping to prepare them for interviewing for internal jobs...that several won. This program made a significant difference for many folks. Thanks for your insightful article.

Posted by: OldSchoolMan [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2013 10:14 AM

Old School Man: Thanks for your great input. I am very familiar with the scenario you describe. Senior Management's challenge is to empower others to play their part -- to let go of command and control. If they don't, they and the organization are doomed. Real change can only happen if people are engaged and given the time and space and resources to succeed. That's why getting buy in on the front end is so important and maintaining an open, honest communication with senior leaders. Understandably, they can't just hand over the "keys to the kingdom" to any committee who has a meeting and has a charter, but they CAN stay in close contact with them to continue giving feedback and providing authentic support.

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2013 11:35 AM

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