Create an international team of innovation catalysts in 5 steps

In early 2019, Cigna International engaged Board of Innovation to help accelerate their innovation capability by establishing a global innovation network. Not only did we recruit and build an international, cross-functional team of innovators, we kick-started their journey with a hands on, 3-month sprint. After being introduced to Design Thinking tools and encouraged to develop an innovation mindset, teams tackled one of Cigna’s critical business challenges.
5 Steps to create an international team of innovation catalysts

At Board of Innovation, we are experts at finding innovation talent within a company. We know how to spot an intrapreneur from miles away, and have dedicated teams in place for talent development. We believe in building capabilities within an organization, and our client Cigna, an international health insurance company, understands this as well.

While Cigna had a core innovation team, they realized they needed to scale their reach if they wanted to accelerate innovation and properly tap into all of their employees within their International Markets. “We needed a team that was spread over several offices,” explains Cigna’s EMEA Innovation Manager Mathieu Dubois. “We needed innovation catalysts who would be physically present in Cigna offices around the world.” Together, we designed and launched an internal recruitment and training program to do just that.

The Cigna Innovation Catalyst team would consist of 12 cross-functional employees from Cigna’s five offices across Europe and the Middle East. Together, they would form a network to spark, shape, and spread innovation across the organization. At Cigna, they’d be known as Innovation Catalysts. A mere 3 months later, the brand-new Innovation Catalyst team assembled in Antwerp, ready to kick-start their new journey.  

Here's our five-step process

How did we manage to put together an international network of innovation ambassadors in such a short time?

  1. Kick-off workshop with the core team
  2. Design and launch the application
  3. Interviews and the selection process
  4. Learn-by-doing innovation training
  5. Building an innovation community

Step 1

Kick- off workshop to define the Innovation Catalyst program

We started with a kick-off workshop with Cigna’s core Innovation team. First, we defined the Innovation Catalyst program and their general activities and responsibilities. In a nutshell, the program would recruit and train 12 internal employees that will spend 10% of their time supporting innovation efforts. They would spark cultural change, identify and drive new project opportunities across the innovation funnel, and act as the connecting pieces across global innovation effort.

We needed to find individuals who were up for the challenge and motivated to change the status quo. Through an ideation brainstorm, we determined the key competencies a successful Cigna innovation ambassador needed to have.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.22.59

tips and tricks

  • Think of actual people you know within a very similar role (internally or externally) and analyze why they are rocking it. What’s their superpower? What makes them great, rather than good?
  • Consider what your hires will do on a day-to-day basis. In this case, Cigna’s ambassadors spread of innovation as part of a global team. Therefore, we looked for candidates who are influential and communicate proactively. Here are 10 additional skills we typically look for in innovation managers.
  • We love hybrid brainstorming and used it to ideate on competencies needed. This lets everyone’s opinion be voiced, major themes to arise, and provides a great platform for open discussion.

Step 2

Design and launch an internal application

So now we knew what these Catalysts look like, but they were tucked away in their own pockets of the organization. How were we going to find them?

We created a landing page that detailed the program and created a short questionnaire that directly asked questions around the competencies we were looking for. We deliberately avoided innovation vocabulary as we wanted to reach all Cigna employees, including people unfamiliar with innovation.

We launched the application on Cigna’s internal portal, and emails and posters were made and sent out. On top of that, specific employees were nudged to apply if they had been involved in past innovation programs, or if they held relevant roles or profiles. The campaign design took one week, and the application was open for two weeks.


  • Do something unexpected to get attention throughout the whole company.
  • An open-response application raises the bar to apply by asking pointed questions and that applicants need to think through. This was a risk but shows that people volunteering are actually motivated and dedicated.
  • Avoid innovation jargon! This program trains the ambassadors on innovation, so all that’s needed is a positive mindset and a willingness to learn.
  • Estimate the number of applications you will receive and define your recruitment funnel, that way you will reach your final selection at your target date.

Step 3

Interviews and the selection process

The recruitment campaign proved to be a major success; On average, 7% of each local office applied.

As an innovation agency, we screen 200 applicants a month of which we select 1 to join our team. Recently, we also started recruiting for corporate innovation teams as a service.

Board of Innovation performed the initial screening of all the applicants and narrowed it down to the top 35 candidates who best matched an intrapreneur profile we were looking for. Out of this pool, Cigna selected the 20 candidates who would interview with Board of Innovation. Our innovation expertise and outsider perspective allowed us to make an unbiased, informed selection. During the interviews, we had awesome conversations with people across all levels and areas of the company and heard what inspires them about innovation! It was a tough selection, but those not selected were asked to join the broader innovation community.

Afterwards, 15 people remained upon which Cigna selected their final top twelve ambassadors. Cigna had the final say over the team, making sure business units and geographies were equally represented.

This selection process took 4 weeks.


  • Define competencies upfront so the entire recruitment process is fair and transparent. Be able to communicate why people made the cut as well as why not.
  • During the interviews, discuss their application responses and ask deliberate questions related to the qualities you are assessing. We started with their backgrounds, then why they are interested in becoming an ambassador, their scope of collaboration, what they see as possibilities for innovation at the company, etc.
  • Invite people who did not make the selection to engage in the broader innovation community.

Step 4

Learn-by-doing innovation training

Once the final team had been established, the team assembled at our Antwerp office for the first of three Design Thinking workshops. We follow the ‘learn-by-doing’ mantra, so the workshops taught the fundamentals of innovation by tackling one of Cigna’s existing business challenges – improving the clinical care customer experience. Over 3 months, the team performed in-depth customer interviews and uncovered unmet needs, diverged and converged their thinking to create non-obvious solutions, researched external trends and competitors, and created digital and physical prototyping to test concepts with customers. Their final solutions (once validated) will be directly incorporated into the business.



  • It was challenging to get people from 7 countries in the same room, but it’s well worth the connections, camaraderie, and trust needed to build a strong team.
  • Use these workshops as an opportunity to tackle a real business challenge, as everyone in the room holds valuable expertise!
  • Space a few weeks between each training. That way, participants have time to reflect on the new material and their role.

Step 5

Build an innovation community

Not only have these Catalysts built up their innovation capability by experiencing the process first-hand, but we also recognize that a successful innovation network relies on the ongoing collaboration of its constituents. They need to have open communication so they can share best practices, leverage each other as resources, and go the extra mile to help each other.

As such, we designed these workshops to foster a culture of trust and engagement. We instilled an open feedback culture, wove in intimate moments of personal reflection, and encouraged ongoing cross-time-zone communication.

Most importantly, we’ve designed the program to empower the Catalysts to design their own future. We’ve opened the doors to the possibilities of innovation, but now it’s up to them to decide for themselves what they want their role to be, depending on where they can add the most value. We trust that we’ve recruited the right people to take on this challenge, dive in head-first, and change their culture of innovation.

At Board of Innovation, we’re excited to support the growth of this Catalyst program across the globe, helping Cigna achieve new milestones in innovation.

12 Innovation Catalysts, 5 markets, 1 superpower team!

Bart Jordens - Global Head of Innovation at Cigna

Accelerate your innovation capabilities

We help you recruit and build an international team of Innovators!


I’m Isabelle de Metz, Innovation Consultant @Board of Innovation. Spreading innovation culture is in our DNA – if you liked the read, contribute to our mission by sharing this article.

Like it? Share it!

Share on linkedin
Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Join 30K+ innovators and receive our latest posts