In recent years, the siloed organizational structures common in traditional large corporations creating barriers between company functions are being broken down to foster a more innovative workplace. In the Wall Street Journal article “Together We Innovate,” the authors dispel the “Myth of the lone genius.” In essence, studies show that innovation does not come from one or even a small team of brilliant employees. The three problems that inhibit innovation are: lack of communication between functions, leaving decision-making to only a few company experts, and one-on-one contacts between collaborating partners.
An overarching theme is that the divisions of employee expertise via a functional project organization prevent ideas from different perspectives at key points in the project timeline. The article mentions that by the time a new product idea gets to the marketing team, the concept is so developed that the marketers and teams further down the line cannot have any input. Although this may not seem to be big news to younger generations who highly value open networks and collaborative environments, these insights support a project manager’s decision to utilize a matrix organizational structure. Implementation of flat organizational structures has taken off in companies that highly value innovation and creativity. I have seen this in many ad and marketing agencies that have open desk space and a literal lack of physical barriers between offices and communication.
Leaving the big decisions up to only a few, albeit experts, in a particular project or organization can often throw the seeds of innovation into a desert of unrealistic ideas. Due to the knowledge of these decision-makers of what has proven successful, they often turn down out-of-the-box ideas providing vital opportunities for competitors. This lack of reception to new and risky ideas can stifle innovation in any organizational setting. From my experience, working in a team with limitations can be helpful, but working with a closed-minded decision maker or team leader keeps a lot of creativity and motivation for new ideas at bay.
Often times, companies rely on other organizations to produce innovative ideas. The networks created are likely informal and “eighty percent of the interactions between the company and academia were one-on-one.” It can be a project manager’s nightmare when one of these people leaves and the connection with that employee is lost. A new relationship must be established with the partner organization. This style of communication is inefficient, very risky, and the result of poor management planning. I have seen this happen many times in student organizations at DePaul and know how frustrating this dilemma is and the strain it puts on what may have been an effective and innovative team.
To answer these three major problems, the article lists several solutions and applications. How would you solve these problems? Maybe you have had similar experiences in your workplace, working on a class project, or in an on-campus organization? How did you overcome these barriers to innovation?
Cross, Hargadon, et al. “Together We Innovate.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. 19 June 2012. Web. 11 May 2013.