Bell Labs is historically one of the most productive R&D labs in history. A large number of the technologies we use today were invented there. Bell Labs scientists invented the facsimile machine, the first long-distance television transmission, the first binary digital computer, the transistor, the laser, cellular technology, the UNIX operating system and the first fiber-optic technologies. Fourteen scientists from Bell Labs have won Nobel Prizes, and the lab has even won Grammy and Emmy Awards.
How did Bell Labs manage such feats of innovation? The answer lies in how the lab organized work among its scientists and inventors. At its Murray Hill campus, the lab was designed to ensure that people of diverse knowledge and expertise worked together, in close proximity where they could have plenty of meetings and make serendipitous connections. Theoretical science was combined with applied engineering to produce wonderful inventions.
The success of Bell Labs illustrates the power of cross-functional collaboration. To innovate effectively companies must create multidisciplinary teams in which colleagues from different departments work together. In most companies, multidisciplinary teams are created using professional disciplines such as finance, technology, operations, sales and marketing. However, beyond this professional collaboration, it is also important to ensure that the teams we create are cross-functional in terms of personalities.
Tom Kelley of IDEO describes some characters for innovation teams that include the visionary, the troubleshooter, the craftsman, the entrepreneur and the technologist. A cross-functional team must have introverts and extraverts, analytical thinkers and creatives, serious intellectuals and fun-loving disruptors. These individuals, working together with mutual respect, will be more creative than a group of individuals who are highly similar and cohesive. Below is a list of eight personality types that an innovation teams should have:
• Miss Happy Go Lucky: This is the life the party. This individual makes sure the team is having fun while they work. Innovation requires elements of playfulness, especially during ideation. Miss Happy Go Lucky serves the role of resident mess-maker.
• Mr. Visionary Creative: Great ideas are also driven by creative vision. People who can see the world, not as it is, but as they would want it to be. Every team needs its dreamers and visionaries to fight for the creative ideals that underpin the product idea.
• Miss Pragmatic: But all dreams have to be checked against reality. The pragmatist makes sure we review our product idea and identify any risky assumptions. They also make sure we test these assumptions before we take our product to market.
• Mr. Analytical: Innovation is also about figuring out a sustainably profitable business model. Both in financial and operational terms, innovation teams need someone with an analytical mind. We are not only creating cool new things, we are building a business.
• Miss Get Stuff Done: But please! No analysis paralysis! Innovation is also about getting stuff done. A hard-driving team member pushes us to complete a minimum viable version of the product and ship it to the market early. We can figure out the rest as we go!
• Mr. Perfectionist: But let’s not be too hasty. Good quality products also ensure that we deliver value to customers in a manner that gets their loyalty to our brand. As learnings from the market inform our iterations, Mr Perfectionist serves as the quality assurance check for our product.
• Miss Consensus: With this cast of characters working together, team meetings can often become contentious. A team member that helps the team collaborate well is highly useful. As much as we want diverse opinions at the table, in the end we need to make decisions and move forward positively as a team.
• Mr. Supportive: Finally, teams consist of people with different needs. There is an element of innovation teamwork that is about supporting and encouraging each other. For example, failing fast can only work in teams where individuals feel safe to make mistakes.
These eight personalities are important to have in innovation teams. Although the assumption is that you will get these personalities by having people from different professions in the room, this is not inevitably the case. Furthermore, it is not that every team should have exactly eight people with these personalities. It is possible for people to have strengths in more than one of these areas. The point is to make sure we go beyond creating teams based on professional discipline alone and also consider the mix of personalities among the team members.
This article was first published at Forbes where I am regular contributor.