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Essential Blue Prints: Building Your District or Site Innovation Team (Part 1)

One question that we get asked quite often at InnovateK12 is how to build an innovation team. This is a key step in the process, and it requires that you design with careful intention. Getting the right chemistry on your team is essential to early-stage success, and you may find that your needs shift as your work becomes more sophisticated or operational.

Whether you're launching from a district perspective or from a site perspective, it's important for a senior leader to organize and lead the Innovation Team. Organizing and empowering this team is an important step in the process.

As a reference to the second step of John Kotter’s eight-step change model, let’s refer to this team as the Guiding Team because they will guide the process. At this stage of the effort, the profile for membership in the Guiding Team is not only credibility with colleagues as a leader, but also a growth mindset and the willingness to consider the power of crowd-based innovation as a change-management solution. These people will not be easy to find because they won’t look or behave like a traditional leader. These individuals tend to have a unique leadership profile - creative, imaginative, open-minded people.

To make the task of building the team even more daunting, this group must also be ready to use their leadership capital to model the desired behavior of frontline staff through engaging in the ideation process and show the way. This profile is rare because traditional leadership channels tend to advance leaders who don’t stray from the traditional path. In most schools and districts, leaders who have high levels of credibility in the organization tend to be seasoned, veteran educators who have reached their leadership status through traditional means. This group is unlikely to embrace or endorse a process that disrupts the avenues that led them to their positions of influence.

The reality that the team leader will face is that this profile simply does not exist. There will be members of the organization who have characteristics of the profile, but likely none who deliver on both sides of the spectrum. Based on this reality, the team leader will need to spend a significant amount of time meeting with this team and growing their understanding of the process. To fully actualize this team, they will need to be convinced that senior leadership is fully committed to the process. The Superintendent and/or Principal and perhaps Board Chair will need to speak directly to this team and reassure them that the necessary components of support are in place.

Why Is the Innovation Team Necessary? The district’s commitment to crowd-based innovation programming requires both a high-level team of key messengers as well as a mid-level team of project leaders. The Innovation Team will lead this project through site-level engagement, program branding, and network science. If the key messengers provide the necessary sense of urgency and

Who Serves on the Innovation Team? Membership of this team will include teacher-leaders, parents, and community members who have a proven track record of loyalty to the organization as well as an openness and flexibility that will allow them to navigate the new territory they will encounter. An effort should be made to find members that represent the diversity of the organization, including representation from each site. Members who have experience in the area of innovation are of particular value - typically found in parents and community members who have experienced innovation in a professional work environment.

What Is the Charge Statement for the Innovation Team? The Innovation Team will guide the process, outlining the steps and ensuring that the necessary resources are in place. The process will include an annual open challenge that will be a call to action for all staff members to share their ideas for organizational improvement or organizational transformation. The team will pull the list of top ideas from the organization’s crowd and develop lean prototypes of each idea through a human-centered design process. Finally, the team will incubate and accelerate ideas through an iterative process that tests ideas in a responsible and resource-light environment. The team will report its results to the School Board and more broadly to the employee group with an effort to be as transparent and inclusive as possible throughout the process.

How Does the Process Work? The Innovation Team manages all four stages of the process: open challenge event management (October/November/December), idea workshop management (January/February), incubation/acceleration management (March/April), and celebration event management (May). Each of these four processes is outlined in detail in subsequent chapters. Briefly, these four stages are summarized as follows:

Open Challenge Event (October/November/December): An Open Challenge Event is an all-call to frontline staff to post solutions to problems, ideas for efficiencies, and/or opportunities for new programming. To kick off this event, the district launches the event via a website with social networking functionality that allows staff members to virtually socialize their ideas with colleagues across the organization while also engaging in real-time at the site via faculty meetings and other meet-up opportunities. The process includes a period of time dedicated to posting and socializing around ideas as well as a period of time where staff vote on the posted ideas. Multiple rounds of voting can be used if there is a large volume of ideas.

Design Workshop (January/February): Once the crowd has submitted ideas, socialized, and voted, then it is time to take the top ideas into a human-centered design process called Idea Workshop. During the HCD workshop’s “Prototype” stage, Eric Reis’s Lean Start-Up methodology is employed so that the idea is tested with minimal resources.

We'll address the final two stages of the process in Part 2 of this blog series: Incubation/Acceleration and Celebration!