Designing Sprint Teams, That Can Build Exponential Organizations

14.08.18 03:42 PM By Lars Lin Villebaek

The Beginning (or the End?)

You have realised that emerging technologies and business models you are not very familiar with are effectively disrupting your industry -and you predict it will have massive consequences for the way you run your business!

You know you have to search for a response to both the innovation and the disruption that are deceivingly sneaking up on you. You also know e.g. from the new book Exponential Transformation by @Salim Ismail, Francisco Palao and Michelle Lapierre or from attending a workshop on how to innovate without getting your initiative killed by your own organisational immune defence system, that a Sprint is likely the most effective way to get new innovation and even disruptive experiments to survive with full support from your leadership.

In the Global Transformation Ecosystem OpenExO, we have now run Transformational Sprints with industry leaders such as P&G, Visa, TD Ameritrade, hp, Stanley Black & Decker, InterProteccion and more, who have all been involving minimum 20-25 leaders from each of their organisations to collaborate on changing the mindset of the organization (away from scarcity and into abundance), who have each been growing new skillsets as individuals and as teams and also been developing and validating new initiatives to be turned into Exponential Organizations (ExO).

The process has surfaced a list of guiding questions, that can be helpful for you to consider when you get to the situation of preparing your organization for transformation. More specifically: a list of questions to guide you when you Design Sprint Teams for Your ExO Sprint! In the following, you will see some of the aspects that will help you build high-diversity teams, that can thrive in situations and environments of uncertainty where the paradox is that 9 out of 10 times, the doubters are right when they shoot down your idea or project.

But if the same doubters rule your company and have the final say, then innovation has no chance and you are on your way to loose the business to external disruptors. You are up against breaking the industry logics, the habits of the organization and it’s individual members, so the risk of failure is imminent. Every Sprint participants shall be ready to fail, fail fast, fail small, fail big and keep going!

The Culture

Companies who exhibit strong culture of innovation show the following traits, which will be great to see in your new Exponential Organizations teams:

  • Employees show initiative. Empowerment is very important -make sure to empower everyone around you and every leader and team member must constantly be doing the same. Your teams shall operate autonomously with a Massive Transformative Purpose -and setting their own direction.
  • Permission to work on unofficial projects. Products such as BMW Touring and the Playstation VR Headset are both examples of products that were done “after hours” by passionate employees who were turned down (rejected) by own leadership when proposing the product as a new product idea -but eventually got support when the management saw the product in action.
  • Serendipity: Lucky coincidences do happen -even though ideas turn out for the better when implemented in different ways than intended.
  • Employee diversity -is a central driver of creativity (read ‘When Cultures Collide’). Most large corporations have very little diversity in their teams even though they may have different cultures represented in their organization. It is easier to avoid conflict when we hire those similar to ourselves -but we loose tremendous innovation potential by doing so!
  • Communication, Communication, Communication (again). Social technologies for letting flat, autonomous organizations stay connected is crucial. Make sure also to create a safe environment for sharing crazy ideas. The ideation done by individuals is a great way to get started but will soon need feedback from others. Communicate all ideas but do not get yourself and the ideas stuck in group thinking.

The Staffing

Enough about culture. Here comes the guiding questions, that have been used in the past dozen ExO Sprints to Design the teams that shall build a new future for your organization:

  • Does the team include members from all relevant functional areas such as marketing (customer discovery), technology (experimentation with exponential technology), strategy (business modelling), logistics (business model innovation) and other functional areas?
  • Are the profiles, interests and pain points of targeted customer segments represented or included in your teams?
  • Are there enough members who are capable of thinking outside of the box?
  • Is there a good balance between team members who are fully bought into learning new innovation methodologies and those who resist (but who can get inspired and become more open to change)?
  • Have we included team members from outside our industry?
  • Does the team have enough motivation to overcome the initial organisational inertia and enough grid to persevere when the corporate immune system attacks?
  • Do you have team members who have appetite and ambition to not only be part of transforming your own organization but the entire industry?
  • Are we sure this isn’t just a theoretical exercise? Are there enough practical team members who know about day-to-day business?
  • Is the team well-connected to the rest of the company, but at the same time far enough removed to do it’s own thing?
  • Is there a team member who can act as catalyst to push the project forward? Who is the visionary in your team (maybe the same person who never get the operational tasks completed) ?
  • Do you have an external Coach with the experience to help you navigate distractions, attacks and mistakes?
  • Do you have top management sponsorship secured by having people in the team who are trusted by the senior leaderships ?
  • Last but not least, have at least 50% of Sprint participants being female. 
These are some of the questions to be considered when you start staffing your ExO Sprint teams. A 4-person team could consist of the Leader, the CFO, the Specialist and the Marketing Manager, where it is easy to add a fifth team player to the mix. Teams should ideally not exceed 5-6 people during an ExO Sprint where the #5 or #6th person is a visionary who can keep challenging conventional thinking in a team (always trying to find more components in your business model that can benefit from being "10x’ed"). One of the team members at a minimum must be personally driven and motivated by solving the particular problem your team will be working to solve. Ideally the whole team will grow similar passion for the problem!
Getting the new team started

At the first stages of a new team, having clear vision and determination is key. No-one follows through better than the person who is working to solve his/her own deeply rooted problem -or the problem of a family member. While the initiative is being built, passion for the project grows exponentially with the validation of key hypothesis. Seeing your leadership showing full support is an incredible motivation for anyone -and for some unfortunately the first time they experience this.

Building missing capabilities

Experimentation and Implementation are typically two very challenging areas for most professionals yet some of the most important to prioritize.

Experimentation is particularly central for the early discovery stages of both the ExO Sprint but also for any new initiative. The needed skill sets at this stage are different from those needed when a team reaches the implementation stage. However experimentation is important to continue and carry into the implementation stage so having team members who thrive with uncertainty, who understand that the biggest risk is not risking, is critical to the success of the team.

When we talk about experimentation, we also talk about agility and rapid learning.

A learning mindset or “Growth Mindset” is central. Always try to avoid seeing yourself as the expert (even though you are); Approach the Sprint with a Beginners Mindset and you will suddenly accelerate your learning.

Other important skillsets of importance are

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Motivating others
  • Trust building
  • Self-organizing (as in self-organizing teams)
  • Reflection
  • Persuasive presenter
  • Community building
  • Leadership

I wish you the best of luck, Designing Your Sprint Team For Building Exponential Organizations -and your new future!

If I can be of support to you in your quest for a mindset of abundance and acquiring new skillsets for the 21st century, then feel free to connect with me or check for more blog posts and Sprint tools!

-Lars Lin

Read the original article on LinkedIn