Six Key Behaviors of World-Class Innovation Coaches

Over the last 10 years I’ve had the opportunity to coach hundreds of Innovation teams inside of dozens of large organizations as well as sponsors and innovation board executives at these same companies. I’d like to share with you some of the key behaviors , principles and mindsets for becoming a world class coach of innovation teams inside the enterprise.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — Lao Tzu

Let’s begin by defining the role of a coach.

What is the role of an innovation coach?
We are not a team member, we are not a decision maker, we are not present to approve whether team members take time away. We exist to help the team accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
To accomplish this goal we must:
1. Support the growth of both the team and the individuals on the team. It is our responsibility as coaches to grow entrepreneurs through this process and we are simply using the Innovation projects that the teams are working on as a means to developing these entrepreneurs. We are accountable for the growth of the team and they are accountable for business outcomes.
2. Keep our teams motivated and consistently moving forward at a rapid pace. When working in situations of a extreme on certainty, as these innovation teams are doing, they will often overthink things and spin in circles unnecessarily. We are responsible to ensure this happens as infrequently as possible.
3. Continuously assess and challenge the team’s assumptions . These can be assumptions about their own performance, about how their organization will behave, about what’s even possible for them as individuals.

“There is no spoon” — Neo

4. Reinforce the great behaviors of our team. When we see our team members behaving boldly, connecting deeply with customers, making decisions based on evidence (not opinion), and rapidly validating / invalidating assumptions, we must positively reinforce those behaviors and ensure they become habits.

What expertise does a world-class innovation coach possess?
World-class Innovation coaches have deep expertise in two areas, Intellectual Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). IQ is the knowledge and expertise of the Lean Innovation process, tools and approach. You can think about it as the HOW of innovation. The IQ you need is going to be specific to your organization. It could include things like Design Thinking, Agile, Lean Start-up, Lean Manufacturing, Jobs To Be Done, Business Modeling and more.
EQ is the understanding and expertise in the coaching and the dynamics of the team. The WHO of innovation.. Your Innovation teams are responsible for the WHAT and the WHY.
Your coaching EQ is where the magic happens and is supported by six key behaviors:
1) Being self-aware about your own behaviors, biases and motivations. We accomplish this by continuously evaluating the team’s situation. Start by pausing to evaluate the current barrier the team is facing, and to be specific about the exact outcomes we hope to create through a team intervention. Once we decide on the intervention and outcome, we must intervene swiftly and then get out of the team’s way. Finally we evaluate if our intervention had the impact we had hoped for.
2) Build rapport with our teams sponsors and leaders by authentically finding common ground with them. Focusing all of our attention on them, and actively listening so we can quickly show them that we indeed have their best intentions at heart. If the teams and leaders don’t trust you, it’s extremely difficult to challenge them and support them in accomplishing more than they thought possible.
3) We are always moving our teams forward , clearing roadblocks, barriers and anything that might slow them down. This ranges from providing candy to providing a shoulder to cry on. We must strive to remove these barriers in a way that does not increase team dependence on us. The team will not have our love and support forever.
4) One way we accomplish is by being a consistent mirror for our teams by giving concise and meaningful feedback. Coaches need to be great observers of behavior and help teams and leaders see the impact of their actions on the performance of the team.
Through this concise feedback we support the team in re-shaping their behaviors to reach optimal performance.
5) We can’t go at this alone and must support our fellow coaches . We call out each-other’s good behaviors, we encourage each-other and we share openly to continuously improve. We operate as a team with a singular goal: helping our teams accomplish more than they thought possible and sometimes a breakthrough can only happen via a coach other than ourselves.
6) Finally we must tap into our team’s primal campfire needs as a great storyteller . We activate multiple parts of the listeners brain by telling truthful, simple, clear stories that resonate with team-members. These stories often leave room for interpretation by the listener and always leave the team ready to take action in a positive and impactful direction.
As you can see, there is a lot to becoming a world-class innovation coach . But, (and this is
something I love to reinforce with the new coaches I work with), in order to make a positive impact for your team, you only have to be one or two steps ahead. Don’t wait to start engaging with teams. Get out there and start practicing so that you can begin having that positive impact on others today.

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