Intrapreneurial teams, what are they? In theory, a highly innovative bunch of people building new products with fresh perspectives - but often, in an overly structured corporate world.
Sounds difficult? You're absolutely right.
Enabling an island, where all the corporate laws and processes don't exist in order to maintain agility and create value is a common struggle that is definitely not easy to master.
In my past experience as an Innovation Consultant, working predominantly in a corporate environment and coaching intrapreneurial teams, I have been proud, stunned, inspired, but also frustrated. I've been frustrated because I have witnessed strong teams with great products failing - not because we couldn't validate, but because of a particular organizational topic we were unable to resolve. I'd like to share some of these challenges with you today.
1. Lacking a clear vision for your innovation projects.
While this seems to be obvious, it is an issue I have observed far too often: A company comes up with a fantastic innovation initiative, fosters and teaches new methodologies, lets their employees create new ideas and potential business cases and sets up an intrapreneurial program.
Sounds great! And then it’s time to get started. We go beyond all the innovation theatre, we're actually creating a product and launching it into reality. Out of nowhere struggles arise, there is confusion everywhere, and questions come up that nobody has an answer to –
Where will this project be "located"?
Will and how will it go back to the business line?
Will it become a Spin-off?
Is this even possible?
Do we event want that???
Solving such challenges now becomes the task of the intrapreneurship teams themselves. They need to suddenly take over a highly strategic topic and need to make an enormous effort with stakeholders in order to set this up somehow correctly.
To be precise: The teams of course need to have their own vision for the product, but (!) it needs to be clear within which possibilites and frameworks they are able to operate.
So as a corporate, and an innovation department precisely, you should prepare in advance all the possible scenarios over the next 6-12 months and most importantly, , be aware of what those scenarios mean for the project concretely. For the product AND for the people!
2. Setting up and measuring the wrong KPIs.
How can we measure success? That‘s a very important topic in itself for sure (Blogpost coming soon). Very often, I meet intrapreneurial teams that have realized at some point the metrics they're supposed to report are absolutely bonkers. Very often they're faced with so called "Vanity KPIs" - metrics that sound nice, and are easy to present to board members.
In the different stages of building, launching and marketing a product, we need to measure different things. The MVP phase, for example: This is the time to evaluate, whether this product is desired by potential customers and should be brought to the market or not. A proper decision can only be made if we measure the right things.
Often we have targets like "We want 20.000 downloads"- just because it sounds good, despite that the total addressable market only being 15.000 for now.
And while downloads maybe show that there might be a general interest from potential customers, does it mean that our product is excellent, that they actually use it? Hell no! So instead we'd need to measure the conversion to active users and the retention rate. The people that are actually using, paying and coming back to our product.
To ensure that the right KPIs are being setup, we need to pay close attention to WHO is setting them up, and based on WHAT (Benchmarks, accurate calculations, measurement target). And as we make progress, we need to always be able to check-in with those targets. Because ultimately, it's a hypothesis and more often than not, it makes more sense to realign than to just blindly report "bad numbers".
3. Putting together teams haphazardly.
Often with innovation projects, setting up the right team is a challenge: We need to find people who work in a corporate environment, but are willing to take risks, work a lot, have the right mindset and face the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. That in itself isn't a walk in the park.
Additionally, the required skills and resources need to match - we want a diverse team that covers all the topics we need for a wholesome development team, with all roles and responsibilities covered.
And then, there's a third thing: interpersonal chemistry and being a match on all of the things that make us human. The way they communicate and work together, build trust amongst one another and become a team.
Sadly, intrapreneurial teams are often pretty randomly set up. Almost like in a kindergarten game, where everyone says a number from 1 to 5 and is then split up in 5 groups. Sometimes this shows in a very early stage already, when it's still easy to change, but sometimes it only shows month in the project, when pressure builds and things tend to get ugly. So setting up a proper staffing modus and involving experts in this is imperative in order to have a high-performing team.
4.Not getting clarity on important legal details.
"Better safe than sorry" is the enemy of "move fast and break things". And the legal department is sadly often a blocker for intrapreneurships teams. Of course, we want things to go the right (and legal) way - no question to that. But as an innovation department, you should gain transparency on the legal boundaries your team has to obey to. Otherwise they're running miles and miles for nothing, and this is especially frustrating when they could've known before.
So get clear about which legal frameworks they're operating in, and how they're impacting the project in relation to the main company and its brands. This illustrates to the team what they can, and cannot do, and what up- and downsides it has for the project.
5. Not providing adequate psychological safety
The last point on this list is an especially important one to me. Often, when intrapreneurs engage into innovation projects, they have to leave their normal jobs. The jobs with an unlimited contract and a clear career path in the future. You might say now: Yes, of course, being an entrepreneur also has its own risks. So why is it a problem for intrapreneurs then?
Sure, the comparison with an entrepreneur is simple, but actually not accurate: An entrepreneur, as opposed to an intrapreneur, works for their own purpose and their own pocket. The idea and product belongs to them. This is not how it works in an intrapreneurship team.
Intrapreneurs work passionately, but their "baby" will most likely remain with the company. Treating intrapreneurs like entrepreneurs and letting them hang loose, without a proper outlook for their career after this crazy experimental ride, is one of the main points of frustration I've noticed with my teams so far. This doesn’t only include the safety aspect on paper, but the personal support, the care and the connection they often lack as an innovation island, isolated from others. Give them a home, people who support them and set up a clear responsibility when it comes to HR, career- and self-development topics.
Building the nurturing ground for intrapreneurial innovation is so much more then just to provide tools and money - it's a commitment, it's the people, the human interaction, the structure, but as well enough space to explore and experiment. And - it is a learning journey for sure, that's the good news!
What are your experiences and thoughts on this? Let me know!