Article on Collaboration Wins Beckhard Prize

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It’s official. According to the editors of the prestigious Sloan Management Review at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT SMR), an article on collaboration and innovation MIT SMR published in 2010, The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work,” won the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize. The article was written by Rob Cross and Peter Gray, professors at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce; and industry co-authors Robert Thomas, Shirley Cunningham, and Mark Showers.

In the project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the authors explored what enables continuous innovation across the enterprise. During the course of an extensive resources search on the topic, there were several surprising findings. The first was that more innovation is not necessarily better. Second, many of the current ideas and assumptions about innovation are incorrect. Finally, and perhaps most surprising for me, they discovered that pushing innovation in the organization can often disable the innovative process as much as it seems to enable it.

The research primarily focused on the question of how companies can build more collaborative and innovative organizations. In general, executives need to analyze the networks the employees use to “collaborate to discover how high-performing individuals and teams connect.” In response, these networks need to be designed to optimize the flow of good ideas across all roles, responsibilities, titles, locations, and time zones. The emphasis should be on finding and streamlining the bottlenecks where too much network connectivity slows decision-making.

The gist of the study is that we need to move from “innovation as an ideology to innovation as a process.” The study offered six recommendations to help make this happen:

  • Treat innovation as a process, not primarily as an outcome.
  • Treat innovation as an independent variable, and reflect on multiple positive and negative outcomes during the innovation process.
  • Recognize that innovation processes integrate different organizational and external factors.
  • Understand the prevailing cognitive, normative, and political dimensions within organizations to determine how they might enable or stifle innovation.
  • Capture insights from successful and unsuccessful innovations in organizations over time.
  • Reflect on the differences in innovation processes, influencing factors, and outcomes across different cultures and geographies rather than on general innovation factors.

The goal of taking these steps is to help develop a more effective way in which organizations use employee networks to “reduce costs, improve efficiency and spur innovation.” It is a brilliant analysis well worth the time it takes to read and consider how to modify the collaboration in your organization.

As the MIT Sloan Management Review stated, the study shows how “The traditional methods for driving operational excellence in global organizations are not enough. The most effective organizations make smart use of employee networks to reduce costs, improve efficiency and spur innovation.”

Source: “The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 10/01/10