Bring back Belbin: Support innovators

Filed under: Innovation — lenand @ 10:34 am

A Framework for Frameworks may be considered to mildly innovative or ignorably cranky.  Whichever it may be, the discussion point is how suggestions for possible improvement are treated in public sector membership organisations.  They hold meetings to set policy and give members strategic advice on improving efficiency, working in partnership and transforming operations.  Essentially such groups are loose teams of intelligent and successful managers with many years of experience in solving public sector problems.

  • Their product is paper with printing (OK, it might also be an inaccessible PDF).
  • Their process is for a sub-group to produce a draft, which is then circulated for consultation one working day (if you are lucky) before the meeting to ratify the content.
  • Meetings congratulate authors on a splendid job and rubber stamp the draft for final copy.  Ideas for change are sidelined owing to a publication deadline.

This triggered a memory neuron and chain reaction that recalled Dr Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles.  His conclusion was that an effective team has members that cover nine key roles.  It was in vogue at the end of the last century, but has now largely disappeared from UK management training schedules. Quarkside holds that the principles are still true.

Innovation needs a “Plant Innovator”, to quote Wikipedia:

A good Plant will be bright and free-thinking. Plants can tend to ignore incidentals and refrain from getting bogged down in detail. The Plant bears a strong resemblance to the popular caricature of the absent-minded professor/inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to others.

Plant Innovators lie in the externally oriented outer circle.  By observation, most public sector staff excel in the internally oriented inner circle.  They are in their low risk comfort zone and unlikely to challenge Government or Corporate policy.  They are likely to exhibit liberal quantities of the Moderator-Evaluator’s role:

Monitor-Evaluator: A sober, strategic and discerning member, who tries to see all options and judge accurately. This member contributes a measured and dispassionate analysis and, through objectivity, stops the team committing itself to a misguided task. Analyzes problems and complex issues; monitors progress and prevents mistakes; assesses the contributions of others; sees all options; judges accurately“.

That’s perfectly reasonable for sustaining operational services, but not for promoting innovation.  Better mechanisms are needed for innovating our way out of the current financial crisis.


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