The Fourth Key: Management Innovation Team

The Fourth Key: Management Innovation Team

I proposed that management innovation requires seven keys to unlock at the same time. I will now discuss the Fourth Key in some detail.

The Role and Positioning of Management Innovation Team

The role of management innovation team is to resolve the host of problems that occur in restructuring existing business or implementing lean startup projects, and to support the leaders directly responsible for the projects for smooth progress.

This requires overcoming organizational inertia, opposition of employees, and zero-base thinking on what the company should be about. It is difficult to do this job fearlessly by line people only.

For existing businesses, it is extremely hard for the very people who fought so hard to protect the existing ways to now tear it down to some extent. Even if they recognize that it must be done, it’s hard to let go. Often, it’s not that line people are stubborn, but they may not have diverse enough experience to think through the possibilities with flexibility.

When you are launching multiple lean startup projects, the process and speed required is very different from the legacy ways, so that coaching by management innovation team members who are more familiar with the new ways is indispensible to ensure true lean startup. Value propositions that are too optimistic, taking months to develop the MVP (minimum viable product), and hesitation to pivot may become major obstacles.

The management innovation team is positioned to support and advise existing businesses and lean startup projects as peers. They are not positioned to give orders over the top. This is necessary to inspire commitment from the people in charge and clarify where responsibility lies.

The management innovation team reports to the CEO, and acts as staff to the CEO. However, they are strictly prohibited to approach anyone in a condescending manner by taking advantage of the position of the CEO. They play a support role as equal pears to the project leaders.

Selecting and Training the Management Innovation Team

The role of management innovation team is very difficult and important, and it demands more than ordinary good skills. Select 4 to 6 well respected middle managers that are strong in recognizing and solving problems, ambitious, and eager to take on new challenges.

Of course in many cases, their superiors will oppose their ace players to be transferred to the management innovation team. Convincing this to happen all hinges on commitment and leadership of the CEO. It may be difficult form the team with all truly top contributors, so get the departments to agree to appoint 1 or 2 ace players, and others who are number two players for the experience as investment in the future.

It may depend on the management innovation challenges and type of lean startup projects, but generally it is preferred to have balanced representation from across departments—planning, development, manufacturing, sales, administration and so on.

Initially, the CEO must override objections and move forward. When the project is well underway and the departments see that one or two years experience in the team works wonders for their growth and maturity, some departments will want to send more top people to the team for training.

The high performing members are not immediately able to perform in their new role. They may be very good as players, but are seldom highly skilled in a support role, so they must be thoroughly trained to raise their skill levels. When I help pursue management innovation, this is the initial area I focus on intensively.

We start with the basics to strengthen the ability to recognize and resolve problems. Ability to grasp business unit management issues in short amount of time, then quickly propose effective measures for where and how to begin. These fundamental skills to support management innovation cannot be attained overnight. A4 memo writing method I introduce in the book “Zero Second Thinking,” deep mining problems, framework development, and effective use of whiteboard provide the basis to improve skill levels.

Next is to strengthen the skills to support business unit heads. Deeply understand their concerns and earn their respect while supporting and challenging their ways. This requires basic training and role-playing to learn to help sort out their concerns and expectations. Understanding and developing high standard of professionalism is essential to play in this very delicate role.

Furthermore, strengthen leadership skills to lead and inspire the project teams that may be skeptical of management innovation by training in areas of team management, output image development approach, and coaching skills.

Finally, strengthen communication skills—ability to listen intently to superiors, colleagues, and subordinates, elicit them to speak out, and make explanations simple. This requires training in areas of positive feedback, active listening, rapidly producing reports, and presentations skills.

It’s rare that people are consciously trained in these essential skills on their regular jobs, so middle
managers regarded as high-achievers will have much to gain from this structured training.

When the management innovation team is formed, focusing on basic training for a few days to develop a common language and awareness of the issues is a key starting point. Significant improvements in skill levels may take several months. By understanding the targets and the process in the beginning, it is possible to attain specific skills to support management innovation at the fastest pace possible.

Practical Training through Supporting Projects

After the aforementioned basic training, team members will train to apply their skills on the job in supporting restructuring projects for existing businesses and for lean startup projects. As they work through wide variety of real problems in a dynamic project environment, they will learn to apply their skills and exercise leadership to solve problems and support the teams.

The basic unit of project term is 6 months. First term will be spent mostly following someone’s examples. One will be able to take some initiatives in the second term, and lead the project team in a sub-leader role in the third term. By the fourth term, one will be able to support all facets of the project as the responsible representative from the management innovation team.

The learning is accelerated to the maximum extent by pairing a new management innovation team member with experienced senior member for the first three terms. One should feel pretty confident after three 6-months projects, but it is not easy. Even the best people in the company usually do not possess skills necessary to drive management innovation, so training and learning in stages is mandatory.

The spiritual command to “do whatever it takes” is hardly good enough. Not only will the employees become exhausted and discouraged, but also such an attitude by the CEO is likely to cause the management innovation to blow up in midair. In the beginning, it is desirable to seek the support of seasoned professional well versed in management innovation to accelerate the time to achieve the state of self-perpetuating process in the company.

The CEO’s Right-hand Team

When you take the time to develop the management innovation team, they become very easy to work with—a super right hand for the CEO. A CEO can drive shortest path to results by assigning few members of the management innovation team not only to existing business restructuring and lean startup projects, but also to other challenging tasks such as post-M&A management consolidation and structuring a holding company.

The select team members with 2 to 3 years experience in the management innovation team promises to grow and develop skills unimaginable in their respective departments from where they came. It will groom them to be part of next generation management team to lead the company forward.

For any suggestions or questions, please feel free to send me a mail to I will get back to you right away.


▼ 7keys to accelerate Management Innovation
The Seven Keys to Accelerate Management Innovation
Need to Unlock Seven Keys to Start and Accelerate Management Innovation
The First Key:Change Vision and Strategy, and Let Everybody Know
The Second Key:Rapid Improvement of Existing Businesses
The Third Key:Developing Multiple New Businesses
The Fourth Key:Management Innovation Team
The Fifth Key:Human Resource Development Committee
The Sixth Key:Innovation in Boss-subordinate Relationship
The Seventh Key:Positive Feedback and Active Listening