Designing Sprint Teams That Can Build Exponential Organizations

What does it take to design an effective and diverse ExO Sprint team capable of helping your organization make a successful exponential transformation?

Lars Lin
Lars Lin

The Beginning (or the End?)

You've realized that emerging technologies and business models (that you are not very familiar with) are effectively disrupting your industry—and you predict it will have massive consequences for the way you run your business.

You also know that you need to search for proactive responses to the innovation and the disruption that are not-so-slowly sneaking up on you. You also recognized (thanks to the book Exponential Transformation by Salim Ismail, Francisco Palao and Michelle Lapierre or from attending an ExO workshop on how to innovate without getting your initiative killed by your own organizational immune defense system) that a Sprint is one of the most effective ways to foster new innovation and disruptive experiments and gain full support from your leadership.

The Global Transformation Ecosystem OpenExO and the leading Business Transformation provider, ExO Works, have now run Transformational Sprints with industry leaders such as P&G, Visa, TD Ameritrade, Hewlett-Packard (hp), Stanley Black & Decker, InterProteccion and more—all of whom have included a minimum 20-25 leaders to collaboratively work towards shifting their organization's mindset (from "scarcity" and to "abundance").

Each participating company has continued to grow new skill sets as teams and as individuals while continuing to develop and validate new initiatives and Exponential Organizations (ExO).

This process has produced a list of guiding questions, that can be helpful as you begin to prepare your organization for transformation.

Questions to Guide You

When Designing Sprint Teams for Your ExO Sprint

Here you will find some of the aspects that will be critical in helping you build highly effective and diverse teams capable of thriving in new and uncertain environments. These teams will be up challenged to break industry norms and the habits of the organization (and its individual members). The key to overcoming these challenges is that every Sprint participant MUST be ready to fail—fail fast, fail small, fail big and keep going!

The Culture

Companies who exhibit strong culture of innovation show the following traits, which will be great to see in your new Exponential Organization teams:

  • Employees Show Initiative
    Empowerment is very important—make sure to empower every individual, leader, and team (and that each individual team member is doing the same). Ideally, your teams will operate autonomously, setting their own direction with a Massive Transformative Purpose as their guide.
  • Permission to Work on Unofficial Projects
    Products such as BMW Touring and the Playstation VR Headset are both examples of products that were done “after hours” by passionate employees who were turned down (read: rejected) by leadership when initially proposing the product as a new idea.
  • Serendipity: Lucky Coincidences Do Happen
    Even the best made plans and ideas have the potential to make the leap to exponential and transformative thanks to a stroke of luck or a different way of looking at things.
  • Employee Diversity
    This is a central driver of creativity (check out ‘When Cultures Collide’). Most large corporations have very little diversity in their teams even though they may have different cultures represented in their organization. It may be easier to avoid conflict when we hire individuals similar to ourselves—but we lose tremendous innovation potential by doing so!
  • Communication, Communication, Communication
    Social technologies capable of allowing employees and division across autonomous organizations stay connected is crucial. Creating an open and safe environment can help foster some of the best ideation and breakthroughs.

The Staffing

Enough about culture (for now). Here are the guiding questions, that have been used in more than dozen ExO Sprints to design and shape the teams responsible for building a new future for their organizations:

  • Does the team include members from all relevant functional areas such as marketing (customer discovery), technology (experimentation with exponential technology), strategy (business modeling), logistics (business model innovation) and other functional areas?
  • Are the profiles, interests and pain points of targeted customer segments represented or included in your teams?
  • Are there enough members who are capable of thinking outside of the box?
  • Is there a good balance between team members who are fully bought into learning new innovation methodologies and those who resist (but who can get inspired and become more open to change)?
  • Have we included team members from outside our industry?
  • Does the team have enough motivation to overcome the initial organizational inertia and enough grit to persevere when the corporate immune system attacks?
  • Do you have team members who have appetite and ambition to not only be part of transforming your own organization but the entire industry?
  • Are we sure this isn’t just a theoretical exercise? Are there enough practical team members who know about day-to-day business?
  • Is the team well-connected to the rest of the company, but at the same time far enough removed to do its own thing?
  • Is there a team member who can act as catalyst to push the project forward? Who is the visionary in your team (maybe the same person who never get the operational tasks completed)?
  • Do you have an external Coach with the experience to help you navigate distractions, attacks, and mistakes?
  • Do you have top management sponsorship secured by having people in the team who are trusted by the senior leaderships ?
  • Last but not least, have at least 50% of Sprint participants being female. Read more about Sprints where the female participants were the absolute standouts.
While running the second Sprint for a major US-based financial services organization, I noticed something quite exciting. While I had been impressed by every participant in both Sprints, the absolute standouts were predominantly women.

These are some of the questions to considered when you start staffing your ExO Sprint teams. A four-person team could consist of the Leader, the CFO, the Specialist and the Marketing Manager, from there it's easy to add a fifth team player to the mix.

That said, teams should ideally not exceed 5-6 people during an ExO Sprint. Ideally, the fifth or sixth person should be a visionary who can keep challenging conventional thinking in a team (always trying to find more components in your business model that can benefit from being "10x’ed").

At a minimum, one of the team members must be personally driven and motivated by solving the particular problem your team will be working to solve. Ideally the whole team will grow similar passion for the problem!

Getting the New Team Started

At the first stages of a new team, having clear vision and determination is key. No-one follows through better than the person who is working to solve his/her own deeply rooted problem—or the problem of a family member.

While the initiative is being built, passion for the project grows exponentially with the validation of key hypothesis. Seeing your leadership showing full support is an incredible motivator for anyone—and for some, unfortunately, the first time they experience this.

Building Missing Capabilities

Experimentation and implementation are typically two very challenging areas for most professionals—despite being some of the most important to prioritize.

Experimentation is particularly central for the early discovery stages of both the ExO Sprint, and any new initiative. The needed skill sets at this stage are different from those needed when a team reaches the implementation stage. However, experimentation is important to continue and carry into the implementation stage, which is why having team members who thrive with uncertainty—who understand that the biggest risk is not risking—is critical to the success of the team.

When we talk about experimentation, we also talk about agility and rapid learning.

A learning mindset or “Growth Mindset” is central. Always try to avoid seeing yourself as the expert (even if you are).

Approaching the Sprint with a "beginner's mindset" is a sure-fire way to accelerate your learning and your team's chances of success.

Other important skill sets of importance are:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Motivating Others
  • Trust Building
  • Self-Organizing (as in Self-Organizing Teams)
  • Reflection
  • Persuasive Presenter
  • Community Building
  • Leadership

I wish you the best of luck, designing your Sprint team for building exponential organizations—and your new future! Let me know if I can be of support to you in your quest for a mindset of abundance, acquisition of new skill sets and new exponential initiatives to implement for a positive impact on the world we live in!

A version of this post was first published via LinkedIn Pulse on August 24th, 2018.

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Lars Lin

Builds & Transforms #Humanized Organizations, Programs & Services For Positive Exponential Impact