Anatomy of an Innovative Team

“If we only had a rockstar product manager, then we could…”
“A genius UX designer will turn this all around...”

Transforming a product, changing the way an organization works and still making sure everything gets done in the current sprint at the same time is not sustainable or effective.

A team can ship, and a team can validate new product ideas and generate wins for the organization. A team can attract attention and build momentum, infecting an organization with new ways of thinking and working. A team is more sustainable than a rockstar and it can support itself when an individual can’t.

If you want to build a team to transform your product and way of thinking it needs a few things like empathy, inquisitiveness, discipline, humility, resilience and hustle. You can’t find all of these things in a single person, but you can find enough of each in a collection of people who can work together.


I had the privilege of doing a pro-bono strategy workshop for St. Jude and was able to tour the hospital. When a patient arrives at St. Jude they are transported in a red wagon instead of a wheelchair, at registration the desks are low enough patients can see and interact with the staff.

You can say this is a story in getting the details right, but I think it’s a story about how empathy helps us understand what matters. Empathy helps St. Jude see the hospital experience through the eyes of patients, parents and siblings. Because of this they can create meaningful and impactful experiences.

Problems have an emotional and experiential component that must be understood to get the right solution for the customer and business.

You’ll see this in people who actively seek an understanding of the customer, business, and stakeholders by: 

  • Watching facial expressions
  • Putting themselves in the shoes of others
  • Advocating for the little details that make an experience better
  • Making decisions based not on their own preferences but on how they think that decision will affect someone else


In our office there is always a lot of discussion in person and over email about new technologies and trends. It’s this passion and interest in different verticals, behaviors, trends and technologies that that fuels innovation.

A lot of innovation comes from taking a concept from one space and moving it to another space. The Wright brothers experience in building bicycles led them to take a different approach than their competitors and contributed to them creating the world’s first successful airplane.

Sometimes I encounter folks looking for partners that only want to work with experts in their industry. The good news is that you will get a partner that knows your industry but you might get the same thinking and ideas as everyone else. Instead, look for people who bring a diversity of experience and a passion for continuous learning.

When you're building your team look for:

  • Diversity of experience
  • People who are always reading and sharing new ideas from different areas
  • People who can dive into a new area and bring fresh perspective
  • A resistance to conventional or internally-focused ideas


They said it wasn’t possible to bring soldiers and their families from Walter Reed to Liberty Mountain Resort for a weekend of skiing and fun. My mom proved them wrong. My dad was in the Navy supply corps and if they needed something anywhere in the world, he found it. His approach was more subtle than mom’s but no less effective. I think it’s fair to say that hustle comes to me naturally.

Hustle is all about creativity and determination. It’s finding another way when the conventional path is blocked. It’s knowing when to charm, when to needle, when to escalate and when to throw down. It’s not getting stuck or frustrated when things aren’t going the way you wanted them do.

So when you’re building your team, look for people who:

  • Are resilient to change and challenges
  • Understand and navigate bureaucracy
  • Can come up with crafty and unique solutions to problems
  • Aren’t afraid to talk to just about anyone


A new idea is exciting and addictive. You can see the possibilities everywhere. Every new prospect or client I encounter is deeply passionate about their new idea. The trap is that you try to go in too many directions at once and end up getting nowhere.

Innovative teams have the discipline to narrow the world of possibilities down. They focus on today’s problem instead of tomorrow’s.

When you're building your team look for:

  • The ability to create a framework that helps people focus in and make the hard trade-offs
  • People who know the difference between today’s problems and tomorrow’s problem and communicate effectively
  • People who can steer the group back to the right direction if they get off track

Humility and Resilience

On one of my first days at 3Pillar, I told my CEO I was going to get things wrong. I have delivered on that promise and will continue to. I’m one of those people that needs to learn by getting bruises.

I’ve had people argue with me endlessly about my test methodology so they don’t have to accept negative results. I’ve been told interviewing customers is a waste because the team already knows the answers. This type of stubbornness costs money and time.

Humility is accepting that you don’t have all the answers and being willing to engage your team, stakeholders and most importantly customers.  Resilience is picking yourself up when your tests fail. Having both will keep your team headed in the direction of a successful product.

When you're building your team, look for people who:

  • Are willing to take risks and make mistakes
  • Engage others in brainstorming
  • Value learning from mistakes
  • Openly discuss challenges they’ve faced and how they overcame them or didn’t

This post is an extension of a post that originally appeared on Jessica Hall's personal website at www.HallwayStudio.com

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