When it comes to driving innovation, the allure of outsourcing to consultants can be strong. They come with the promise of cutting-edge ideas and the potential to shake things up. However, there’s a growing concern that when innovation is outsourced without true integration into the business, it can lead to frustration and a sense of disconnection. The image of external consultants, referred to colloquially as ‘cowboys’, working in isolation in a corner of the office, embodies this challenge.

The core issue is that innovation cannot be siloed. It must be a symbiotic process that is in constant dialogue with all facets of the business it seeks to transform. When consultants operate independently, without absorbing the company’s culture, understanding its core competencies, and aligning with its strategic goals, their efforts can seem out of touch and may not be sustainable or scalable within the organisation.

Effective innovation requires a partnership model. This means forming teams that blend internal staff with their invaluable institutional knowledge, and external experts with fresh perspectives and specialised skills. Each member must be dedicated to the initiative, bringing their unique expertise to the table, while also committed to learning from one another.

Communication is the linchpin of this partnership. Through open dialogue, staff members are less likely to feel sidelined or that the consultants are receiving special treatment to ‘do things differently.’ Instead, they’ll see a collective effort aimed at a common goal.

It is also crucial for these cross-functional teams to have shared accountability. The success of the innovation initiative should be a shared KPI for both internal and external members. This shared responsibility fosters a deeper commitment to the project and ensures that all parties are invested in the outcome.

Innovation should not be a service purchased and delivered; it should be an integrated, collaborative journey. By fostering a partnership approach, businesses can mitigate the frustration often associated with outsourcing innovation and instead create a dynamic where every team member, regardless of their employer, is equally invested and accountable for the innovation that drives the business forward.