How to Lead Teams to Innovation and Success

Dr. Ronald Johnson's picture
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High-performing teams are a necessary driver for a competitive advantage in today’s global business environment. There are strategies to create and nurture functional, supportive teams that lead to innovative and successful outcomes.

Tom Blanchard opines, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Team composition is a very important component of a successful team. Interview prospective team members and strive to select members with complementary and even contrary skills. Don’t choose a team of clones.

Also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. There are various assessments and surveys that can be used to assess team effectiveness. The more you know about each member of the team, the greater the chance for success in your team endeavor.

Once you have your team composed, you need to begin performing in order to creatively solve a problem. One of the strongest techniques for developing innovative ideas is brainstorming. All members must suspend judgment – there are no wrong answers and often someone’s seemingly wild input will trigger a creative response in a teammate. Successful brainstorming sessions require a skilled facilitator.

Of course, there are challenges in working as a team. Have you ever worked on a team where not everybody was engaged and contributing to the team’s success? Then you have been exposed to the social loafer; the team member whose contributions are often incomplete or late, who misses team meetings, and is generally unprepared. A team leader needs to confront this behavior immediately as a demoralizing mood can spread throughout the team. The first step is to ask the individual if they are experiencing any personal or professional problems that are affecting their performance. The individual needs to be given specific examples to understand how he or she is impacting the team and corrective actions need to be identified.

I was recently a member of a high-performing team at American Public University System. We came together with one specific goal: to create an award-winning innovation in the area of student recruitment and retention. Our team worked hard and made the final round of the Provost’s Innovation Challenge. Even though we did not win, we learned some very valuable lessons during our time together; one of them being to always have a plan-b. We learned to always have a backup, whether it was a different tool for the teleconference, storing our work in various cloud-based services, and knowing each other’s parts for our final presentation. These actions empowered each of us and also offered a sense of team accomplishment.

Remember, teams are useful when a situation calls for an innovative solution. A side benefit is the ability to improve organizational effectiveness, develop closer bonds between organizational members, and foster a sense of belonging and inclusiveness. 


Dr. Ronald Johnson is an associate professor for Graduate Management in the School of Business at American Public University. He earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma while on active duty in the United States Air Force. Ron’s classrooms have been in the United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Bosnia. He considers it his highest honor serving military students to help them reach their academic goals. His research interests are in corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and mobile learning and its pedagogy.

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