Top tips for building a successful internal innovation team

Traditionally, digital transformation journeys consist of wholesale IT overhauls, an embrace of emerging technologies, and investment in technology talent

As these approaches have become prerequisite for every modern competitive company, firms now encourage entrepreneurialism and innovation from within to guide the next evolution of digital transformation. For this to work, teams or internal labs need to be built with the specific purpose of delivering new products and services in line with customer expectations.

SEAT:CODE is a best practice example of this type of entrepreneurialism and innovation. It is a tech start-up created specifically to help SEAT pivot from being a successful car manufacturer into an efficient and modern mobility service provider. Before, during and after the pandemic, it’s been tasked with finding sustainable micro-mobility and mobility solutions and building smart supply chains –and it’s already delivering results. For example, the team has developed the platform that runs SEAT MÓ, a moto sharing service in Barcelona which allows users to download an app, and share vehicles. The platform, called Giravolta, connects the vehicles digitally, manages the data, and creates the app that manages and monitors the fleet, and it will be rolled out in cities throughout Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Poland and Germany too.

This new wave of digital transformation is evidently helping set companies apart, but it can be challenging to implement successfully. For those business leaders looking to create their own entrepreneurial team of technologists, we’ve drawn on our experience to share three top tips to enhance the chances of success:

Tip 1: Determine whether you want to ‘start small’ or ‘go big’

When building a team focused on innovation, most business leaders are faced with a choice: do they start small and look to grow incrementally, or do they aim for fast growth and turnover, but accept greater financial risk.

In our experience, the answer lies in your timeline and objectives. There’s no doubt that starting small is easier. If you have a small but motivated team, you can identify two or three projects, and focus on getting them off the ground. However, this approach is not often agreeable with short timelines given the team likely has its main priorities elsewhere.

On the other hand, if the purpose of these teams is to make an immediate impact, it might be worth pursuing a short-term ‘all-in’ strategy. This is what we did at SEAT:CODE, and found that by hiring both internal and external resources, and working on a variety of projects, we could deliver improved customer solutions faster. This approach does require a significant financial investment, but once the initial projects are completed, you can redress expenditure and scale back to focus on other internal demands.

Tip 2: Be mindful of ‘paralysis by analysis’

When creating an internal innovation lab, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘paralysis by analysis’. As with most businesses, there are a variety of problems to solve, and with a newly created team ready to innovate fast, it can be tempting to try to believe each challenge can be tackled at once. This mindset will result in gridlock and will leave the team directionless.

Instead, best practice dictates that there must be alignment on objectives and outcomes. There should be a clear bridge between the innovation lab and the wider corporate business, with the two sharing knowledge, updates and strategy.

At SEAT:CODE, we’ve found that communication is key in striking the balance between analysis and solutions. Our parent company keeps us abreast of customer pain points and feedback, and in return, we avoid trying to find that one ‘perfect’ solution. Instead, we create small-scale solutions that undergo regular trial and improvement, which together not only keep us agile to new demands but amount to an array of new products and services. This cycle of innovation reduces our overall risk of failure and ensures we’re free of gridlock.

Tip 3: L&D keeps your teams at the edge of innovation

Being ahead of the game is not just about parachuting your internal labs and entrepreneurial teams with the best talent -it’s about keeping their knowledge at the very edge of what’s new. This is so they can be agile to new ideas, requests and ensure that they are using the latest technologies and thinking to deliver a superior experience. Importantly, this should not be a solo endeavour. In fact, we’d encourage you to seek strategic partnerships to help develop the technology and business skills required to implement your vision.

For example, at SEAT:CODE, we’ve partnered with Pluralsight, a digital on-demand technology learning platform, to provide personalised skill development plans, with courses and assessments curated by the world’s leading experts. Our teams have access to Pluralsight’s entire course library and have focused on developing skills in areas like computer science and programming, which are high demand skills that are complex to master. This access to upskilling has enabled us to innovate faster and bring new products to market.

Final thoughts

For the past decade, digital transformation has been a permanent fixture on the business agenda. And with the pandemic, we are all having to innovate faster just to keep our competitive differentiation. The creation of internal labs and entrepreneurial teams can super-charge innovation, while keeping talent and new ideas in-house. However, there are often teething problems to overcome. SEAT:CODE is evidence that these ventures can be successful, but we would encourage business leaders to approach the process with their eyes open. Companies must be prepared to communicate openly with those involved to set clear expectations and objectives, and provide appropriate investment -whether that is equipment, resources or L&D.

About the Author

Carlos Buenosvinos is the CEO & CTO of SEAT:CODE. He has more than 15 years of experience developing web applications and more than 10 years’ experience as a Tech Lead and CTO/CEO leading teams of between 20 and 100 people. In the past, he has worked with e-commerce (Atrapalo and eBay), payment processing (Vendo), classifieds (Emagister), and B2B recruiting tools (XING).


Featured image: ©Jacob-Lund