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Disruption Is a Team Game

by Bruce Watt, Ph.D.

Think of any famous story about disruption in business and I’ll bet you find one thing in common: there’s always a hero.

At Apple, the hero was Steve Jobs. At Facebook, it’s Mark Zuckerberg. At Amazon, the hero is Jeff Bezos. The list goes on and on, but the implication is always the same: Disruption happens when a highly talented person executes on a great idea at the right time.

There’s no getting around the fact that smart, hard-working and highly skilled people are essential for innovation. And as I discussed in my recent blog post, companies need to work harder to surface and accelerate development of potential disruptive leaders. But the problem is that businesses often model their efforts on the big success stories and believe that disruption depends on a few exceptional individuals—heroes who will save the day through disruptive action.

The reality, however, is that it is highly unlikely that any company is going to systematically replicate the "hero" gamechanger. Rather, harnessing disruption within your company requires a team.

One global technology company DDI is working with has been able to achieve systematic, game-changing innovation outcomes by activating disruptive leadership across teams. The process starts with surfacing individuals who possess the potential to be disruptive leaders (i.e., previous accomplishments, skills, personality, experiences) and accelerating their development. But they also take a purposeful approach to building teams that foster positive disruption.

These teams are deliberately cross functional and bring a mosaic of experiences, skills, and perspectives. Further, the teams are prepared with the interaction and conversation skills that unleash creativity and productivity. They have achieved business outcomes that fall in the realm of positive disruption, including accelerating the global synergies for digital transformation for a cloud-based business and transforming the attraction, development, and retention of Millennials.

How do they do it?

It starts with data and analytics. Each high-potential leader was appraised though an in-depth virtual development center that provided insight into their capabilities, experiences, and personality. The assessment also showed how those qualities affected the individual’s ability to execute disruption in key parts of the company’s strategy to create a better customer culture, increase profit, and drive product innovation. This insight was used to configure the make-up of the teams that were assigned critical business issues to solve.

The teams were exhaustively prepared through individual development and skills practice so that each individual’s strengths were leveraged. Most importantly, the critical success factor was preparing the teams so that they could operate with the interaction skills to achieve outcomes. For example, each leader learned how to use open questions to seek rather than tell, maintain or enhance others’ self-esteem, listen and respond with empathy, and effectively manage conversations.

Not surprisingly the high potentials generally did not possess these skills by default. Hence, it was developing this "interaction playbook" among the team that really enabled the disruptive ideas to become reality.

Finally, context is critical to enable true internal disruption. Internal entrepreneurial innovation teams must be purposefully assembled with a diverse make-up. Should the team constitution be linked to the global-local continuum, or cross-functional collaboration on the horizontal scale, the background of the decision-makers involved is key for any disruptive idea to be considered and approached through the lenses of various business operations and environments.

A mix of personality traits and skills on a team of disruptive leaders ensures that an issue and solution receives a decent assessment from various points of view with a consideration of all sides of business and markets. If it’s a good and marketable idea, the team can quickly leverage it to become a reality.

Developing effective teams of disruptive leaders requires a mandate from senior leadership to challenge the status quo and purposefully and visibly create alignment with a rapidly changing digital market. Their development should be focused on enabling the leader to influence and network across the organization, have a global mind-set, push the barriers, take ownership for positive disruption, bring ideas to reality, and learn fast.

With this structure in place, these teams will have the power to enact transformative change and expedite a major shift in the business paradigm without destroying value in the current core business or contravene the organisation’s essential values and culture.

Disruption is Inevitable

Companies have realized that disruption is an inevitable state of how businesses operate today. There is no question about whether disruption is something that's going to save your business, but the question is how you start surfacing potential within your organisation with disruption in mind.

A few highly-talented heroes aren’t enough to change your organization. Rather, the key to success lies in having the right process backed by senior leadership commitment.

Acceleration of the disruptive leaders is a risk-opportunity equation. But if you get it right, you’ll be the ones changing the game.

Register for the webinar “The Lost Promise of Leadership Potential” to explore a different and holistic approach to unleashing potential.

Bruce Watt, Ph.D., is vice president for DDI’s operations in Europe, India, Australia and DDI’s MNC Global Centre of Excellence. He has recently discovered bicycle touring and after some initial ventures in the UK hopes to more find time to explore Europe by bicycle (and maybe even India).

Posted: 06 Dec, 2017,

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