A few years ago, we started an experiment: We wanted to know what a motivated team can achieve in a very short time if this team finds the right conditions. We asked eight companies to formulate real and relevant innovation tasks. Out of 100 interested students, small teams were formed, who worked nonstop for 24 hours on these tasks in an innovation marathon.

The feedback from the participants was overwhelming: everyone was excited about what can be achieved within such a short time. Encouraged by this feedback, we have further developed this extraordinary and challenging format. In 2016 we held it for the first time at the European Forum Alpbach. Every innovation marathon attracted executive managers because they wanted to use this approach in their companies too. This was an important impulse. Companies wanted – indeed needed to – increase their innovation fitness. However, this can’t be done in companies within 24 hours. So, we started to transfer the most important basic principles of the innovation marathon into a procedure that does not only generate a short-term mood of optimism. We were looking for a combination of rapid, visible innovation successes and a sustainable transformation of the corporate culture.

We understand corporate culture as a set of norms, values, attitudes and behaviors of an organization. It is the way an organization deals with things and solves problems. In a nutshell, it’s the organization’s unwritten laws. When it comes to the development of your own corporate culture towards more innovation fitness, you need your own new success stories that symbolize the desired culture. And it requires framework conditions that enable the organization to learn from the new success stories and then anchor their patterns in the long run.

Rapid Innovation Teams

Rapid Innovation Teams are a very effective tool. Based on the innovation marathon teams, they are small, powerful multidisciplinary units that are formed on a temporary basis in order to advance and concretize an innovation task. Their sponsor is a person with full say and decision-making authority in the organization.

5 Principles Make up the Power of Rapid Innovation Teams

Voluntary and Multidisciplinary

4–6 self-motivated persons form a Rapid Innovation Team. They come together voluntarily to work on an often tendered innovation assignment. The following is imperative for the task: it must be sufficiently clear but nevertheless formulated openly. The team itself must consist of a cross-departmental mix of people to ensure the often-praised but in practice far too rare cross-functionality.

Time Boxing

Rapid Innovation Teams get a manageable time span of typically 3–4 months for their task. The team defines what it wants to achieve in this time and clarifies concrete expectations with its sponsor. Within this timeframe, the team members work ideally 100 %, but at least 25 % together on the topic. For this, it establishes a fixed rhythm in order to meet at least once a week.

War Room

For the duration of the project Rapid Innovation Teams have a dedicated project space, their very own War Room. Here, all work results are distributed visibly in the room and thus immediately present when the team comes together. This reduces the effort for a context change from their daily business and creates a sense of community.


Rapid Innovation Teams get a small budget to build simple prototypes easily and they have a direct escalation path to their sponsor in case of blockages. This ensures that they can fully concentrate on content-related work. Everything that could hinder a progress in the project is removed.

The Right Methods and Tools

Today there is an almost unmanageable number of methods and tools for innovation projects and agile project management. Terms such as Design Thinking, TRIZ, Business Model Canvas, Lean Start-Up, Output-Driven Innovation, Scrum or Kanban can be found in a short Google search. All these methods have contextual strengths and are very helpful to make good progress. The trick is to apply the right methods for each task, without needing time-consuming trainings beforehand – our experienced innovation coaches are supporting the teams with the selection and utilization of innovation methods.

Sustainable Transformation

Innovation teams built on these principles can perform incredibly well. The team members motivate each other and stay on the topic with constant energy. Sponsors are amazed at what can be achieved in such a short time in their own organization with minimal resources.

For this approach to jump start a sustainable transformation of the innovation culture, however, attentive change support is required.

First, the management must be familiarized with the procedure, as it requires at least a temporary suspension of common processes and rules of the organization. Rooms and budget must be created. Above all, it needs a good clarification of the topics or tasks. It is advisable to entrust several teams with different tasks for a cultural transformation. The parallel teams are invited to a networking meeting with retrospective every four weeks. In this facilitated meetings experiences with the new way of working are shared.

The Rapid Innovation Teams generate results that can be translated into further product development. In addition, very clear lessons learned for innovation culture development can be derived. Finally, the employees of the Rapid Innovation Teams are infected with a creative mindset and, as ambassadors for the new, authentically contribute their success stories to the organization.

Autor: Stefan Posch, ICG Managing Partner