It’s nearly two weeks since we visited Danske Bank’s MobileLife innovation initiative in Copenhagen but we are still buzzing.

MobileLife is much more than a lab or an accelerator. It’s a satellite that feeds the bank with innovative solutions to the big problems in life – that support the overall Danske Bank brand and that it can bring to market.

It also feeds the ‘mother ship’ with staff experienced in new ways of working and with ideas that, given the space to experiment and fail, anything is possible.

When we start working on an innovation project we’re interested in the user need – but we are equally interested in how our client’s business supports and understands innovation. When companies have consensus on modes of operation and shared meaning and purpose for innovation clearly mapped out it communicates that they take innovation seriously and are more likely to succeed.

Simon Haldrup, who heads up MobileLife, shared with us how he evolved and iterated the model when he started the initiative three years ago, and talked us through how it has grown to 150 people in Copenhagen and Vilnius. He’s about to embark on another refresh of the modus operandi, moving its focus from innovation of service to innovation of business models. An exciting moment for a truly innovative organisation.

Here are five things we learned about MobileLife and some of the secrets of its success – we think they’re essential points for anyone who runs or is considering running an innovation or growth function within their organisation.

1. Give the team lots of space to fail and to grow

Simon said he kept executives from Danske Bank’s mothership away from MobileLife for the first six months. This allowed the small team to experiment with modes of operation and develop a strategy that would be unique to the initiative without interference from the outside. He also said that it was key to embed and instil a new kind of culture in MobileLife which made it all right to fail – for ideas to fail anyway. He believes the failure everyone should be afraid of is structural failure – and that is the thing to get right first and foremost. The structure and setup needs to work effectively to allow teams to experiment and get things wrong in a safe and supportive environment.

2. Balance your team

Simon first wanted to hire people who knew nothing about the bank, to have good ideas from the outside, but soon realised that a balance was required. Squads in MobileLife involve 50% bank people, 50% non-bank, and represent the required skillsets. Hiring ‘non-bank’ people is also important as it brings ethnic and cultural diversity in as well as closer representation of the customer.

3. Focus on cross-functional teams

Alongside technologists, designers, UXers and marketing people, Simon brought Legal, Risk, and other more traditional banking skillsets into MobileLife’s venture squads from very early on. These specialists are now embedded into every venture squad and work in cross-functional teams. This means the people who were previously seen as less innovative are included from the very beginning, sparring with other competencies and pushing the limits. And that’s where the magic happens.

4. The venture is the thing

Applying these ways of working also requires a different organisational structure. MobileLife is structured similarly to Spotify or Skyscanner, with vertical ‘venture squads’ dedicated to delivering specific products and services. This means there is no chance of being siloed or feeling more connected to your discipline than to the thing you’re making and to the people you’re making it with.

5. Stay fresh by starting again

Three years from its inception MobileLife’s structure and mode of operation is to be renewed. Its overall focus is to change from service innovation to business model innovation. Teams will be refreshed by reorganising existing venture squads. When everyone understands the purpose of change, to keep things fresh, for people to see things differently, it is not frightening but a big opportunity to take the next leap forward.

Conclusion

We brought Roger Donald, Head of Digital Service Delivery at NHS Digital with us to Copenhagen, because we believe cross-pollination of ideas across sectors and across countries not only inspires and energises us but leads to better ways of doing things. Roger was inspired and energised – you can read his take on the trip here. We can’t wait to see what he does with what he learned on the visit.

We are also very excited to take some of the organisational-level factors we learned about and combine them with our tried and tested design tools with our next innovation client. Could that be you? We’d love to chat with you about how your organisation runs and delivers innovation and the ways we could work together. Why not get in touch?