While some employers rage over the evolving world of hybrid work, others have created new opportunities for innovation and collaboration. One example of this is the accelerated introduction of a new product created by innovation powerhouse 3M, a longer lasting medical adhesive to assist patients using portable devices such as glucose monitors. 3M’s approach to innovation can serve as a model for teams working to accelerate the pace of their own projects.
3M came up with an aggressive plan to create the new adhesive in record time: one year versus three years as planned. He assembled a hybrid team of scientists in the US and Japan to maximize the effort against this target. In essence, this transglobal model allowed the team to move forward with the project without the long hours that exhaust other teams.
Led by scientist Audrey Sherman, holder of 3M’s #1 female patent and #6 overall, the team took advantage of time zones in ways that could challenge other teams. You also benefited from his perspective on innovative thinking.
Sherman’s approach is to guide scientists and other colleagues in connecting seemingly unconnected things. One example is the thinking he brought to the table when he transferred to 3M’s medical division, where he helped the team draw parallels between roads and skin. The technology of the adhesives used in traffic lane paving and medical adhesives for human skin are remarkably similar.
“Roads and skin show signs of age, wrinkle over time, or react to prolonged exposure to water,” he said. Helping a team draw parallels to think practically about a challenge is a contributing factor to team success.
Here are other lessons that may benefit other companies looking to accelerate innovation:
Reinventing communications to bridge a language gap
Because the team had a mix of American and Japanese scientists, the difference in language and culture added a diversity of thought. The biggest challenge was communication about daily operations.
“We use the chat feature so we can translate,” said Sherman, the team leader. “We also drew pictures and used images from the web to get our point across. Images translate across cultures.”
How can you do it: Images can help an entire team visualize a solution better than explaining it in words. Even with an English-speaking team, use imagery—even stick figures—to help your team clarify amorphous concepts like how an audience might feel about a new product or what’s contributing to a team challenge in terms of try a product. or service.
clear the decks
3M leadership protected team time to refine the focus rather than piling on additional projects that could dilute focus. This prioritization demonstrates courage in leadership that other organizations find challenging and helped the company achieve its aggressive goal.
How can you do it: Many organizations set goals that include too many conflicting priorities, leading to delays and burnout. This is the time for leaders to be honest about what their team can take on and what needs to happen further down the line to achieve their number one goal. Set the deadlines accordingly.
Works time zones effectively
Working in time zones that are 13 hours apart provides the benefit of a 24-hour approach without requiring employees to work unreasonable hours. This approach, in essence, allows the team to do deep work without burnout. A regular schedule of reviews ensured transitions to transfer new findings.
How can you do it: Even with a North American team, your staff can take advantage of tasks that can start in Eastern time and end in the Pacific. However, keep in mind that you should not fill the schedule with meetings that take place outside of the hours when everyone is expected to be present. The key is to create well-defined systems to pass the baton. And to go the extra mile for a local team, have meeting days off to accommodate deep work, or suggest that your team members block off their most productive hours to own their results.
By applying its innovative approach to a way of working together, 3M was able to deliver results faster than working with a traditional team in one location. The bottom line is that good communications, focus, and innovative thinking can keep priorities moving for any team that takes this disciplined approach.
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