Building a Winning Innovation Team

Today, at their first home game of the 2008 season, the Boston Red Sox will receive their rings for winning the 2007 World Series. Once thought of as underdogs, enduring an 86-year championship drought, the Sox have turned around their fortunes, winning two World Series in four years and appearing in the post-season four times in five years – a feat for any team (except for the Yankees who won four World Series in five years). 

Part of the Red Sox success has been the recruitment of stellar players who possess the skills or “tools” to dominate both offensively and defensively. These five tools – pitching, catching, running, hitting for average, and hitting for power – rarely appear in one player. Historical examples of such players include Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Sr., and Mickey Mantle. Currently, only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez fit this description. The Boston Red Sox, however, have worked around lacking a 5-tool player by being a 5-tool team. 

Looking at the roster for the Sox, there is a well-rounded representation of the five tools. David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Manny Ramirez excel at hitting for power, although both have questionable skills at running and catching. Outfielders Coco Crisp and JD Drew and third baseman Mike Lowell (2007 World Series MVP), however, stand out at catching and running. Another player skilled at catching, Kevin “Youk” Youkilis broke the record for most consecutive errorless games by a first baseman, at 194, on April 2, 2008. Youk, Drew, and Lowell also shine at hitting for average. The Red Sox’s bullpen, anchored by Josh Beckett and supported by Clay Buchholtz and veteran pitcher Curt Schilling, consistently holds opponents to few (if any) runs.

The Red Sox roster and success demonstrate the importance of diversity in building and developing a team. BoSox manager Tony Francona has built a team that has at least three players supporting each of the five tools and every position on the field. Of managers appearing in at least 20 post-season games, Francona has the highest winning percentage. 

Research done by our partners at the Centre for Research in Innovation Management (CENTRIM) at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom found that the most successfully innovative organizations in the world follow a five-phased “journey” of innovation – Searching, Exploring, Committing, Realizing and Optimizing. The actions needed in each phase are supported by specific skill-sets and mindsets. Like 5-tool players, 5-phase managers are rare. While many of us have the aptitude to excel in each of the phases, typically, we will specialize or have particular ability in only one or two. 

Companies who, like the Red Sox, build 5-phase teams are most likely to see success. Examples of successful 5-phase organizations include Hewlett-Packard, New York Police Department, and Toyota. These companies have organizational capabilities in all 5-phases and are highly regarded for their innovative culture. 

You, too, can build a 5-phase team. It starts with an honest appraisal of each individual’s current capabilities and a plan for developing (either through acquisition or training) the skills that the team lacks. Barnes & Conti’s two-day Managing Innovation program provides a hands-on opportunity for managers to understand the key practices in innovation management, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as managers of innovation, and develop behavioral skills that drive, foster, support, and improve organizational innovation practices. 

What phase do you support the most? To identify which phase of the Innovation Journey best describes how you help your organization move ideas into action, visit: 

To learn more about our Managing Innovation program, visit:

Grace Boone is Barnes & Conti’s Marketing Manager. She’s been a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Ozzie Smith since age nine, but now supports her hometown Oakland A’s.

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