Team approaches to developing innovative products and processes

Caird, Sally Patricia (1996). Team approaches to developing innovative products and processes. PhD thesis The Open University.



The research aimed to identify the most appropriate team approaches for co-ordinating innovative products or process developments and for enhancing their success. Case studies were conducted in 25 UK companies, focusing on environmental technology projects. Research findings emphasised the diversity of organisational team approaches which were more complex when several departments, teams or companies were involved. Team approaches were broadly classified - 'single-disciplinary', 'multi-disciplinary' or 'multi-functional' - according to members' expertise and innovation function which could be more or less integrated. The results showed that:

1. Multi-tasking to meet all innovation functions reflected small firm limitations and small firms would benefit from more formal structures. Differences between medium- and large-sized firms were minimal since teams held more specialist expertise, However, the influence of firm size on innovation success was obscured and potentially negated by inter-company alliances.

2. Few differences in the management of minor and major company innovations applied since competitive pressures led to organisational innovation in each case, including integrated team approaches, inter-company alliances and company formations.

3. Multi-functional teams were important for achieving success in open markets because of their control over appropriate expertise, even though they did not guarantee commercial success or other benefits. Surprisingly, multi-functional teams were typically rated as unsatisfactory and ineffective by members which may have implications for staff morale and retention.

4. Inter-company teams represented opportunities for team learning and organisational development because company-based assumptions about organisational behaviour, expectations about inter-company operations and fears about inter-disciplinary teamworking were challenged.

5. Integrated teams were not sufficient for achieving team effectiveness and success outcomes, although most companies regarded their team as necessary for success. Complex team and innovation development processes emphasised the importance of the co-ordinator's role in managing unclear team and organisational boundaries associated with innovative developments.

6. Although the research supports the importance of teams for innovation success, team effectiveness had a more complex influence on success in open markets than on client-funded projects because of the nature of the teams and the influence of market and technological uncertainties.

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