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Collaboration the key to workplace innovation

By Colin Lindsay - Posted on 13 July 2017

Dr Colin Lindsay of the Innovating Works Team at Strathclyde Business School blogs on how creating conditions for collaboration is crucial for businesses who value workplace innovation.

Scotland’s Workplace Innovation agenda is challenging employers and business stakeholders to rethink how to empower people to innovate in the workplace. One of the key themes of my own team’s research is that creating the spaces and conditions for employees to collaborate and share ideas can be crucial to driving innovation. Our latest Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Masterclass on Collaboration for Innovation on June 8 in Edinburgh addressed exactly these issues.

We were joined by more than 70 business leaders to discuss the opportunities and challenges around creating spaces for people to collaborate and innovate in the workplace. Business leaders and HR professionals from a range of sectors debated how to ensure that employees and teams can share ideas. We heard about how businesses have adopted specific practices to support collaboration across organisational boundaries, for example by creating opportunities for teams to learn about each other’s jobs, skills and contribution through shadowing and job rotation.

 A number of business leaders spoke of the tensions experienced by managers and employees who are keen to share ideas and innovate across the business, but also have KPIs that relate to the 'day job'. We discussed the need to commit resources to supporting collaboration across and within teams, so that it becomes a defining feature of job roles and a priority for line managers.

We also heard outstanding keynotes from a duo of innovative business leaders who talked about bringing people together to innovate at work. Robert Carr, a senior partner and recent Chair at the leading Scottish law firm, Anderson Strathern (recently named Employer of the Year at the Scottish Legal Awards), looked at the bigger picture – how in an uncertain world, businesses increasingly need to foster collaboration both within and beyond their workplaces. Robert spoke of how Anderson Strathern has rethought its approaches to succession planning and learning with a view to embracing change and innovation. His inspirational talk also challenged the wider Scottish business community to embrace diversity as a route to new ideas and innovation in the workplace.

Johanna Pystynen, Director of People Operations at the Finnish software company Vincit, highlighted how empowering employees to lead and innovate has led to Vincit being named as Europe’s best medium-sized workplace by Great Place to Work. Vincit views the job of management as to act as a service provider for employees - offering employees a range of resources and challenging them to take control of their own work, work-life balance and learning.

We were finally joined Dr David DeGeest of Hong Kong Polytechnic University who reported on his research with companies that have prioritised 'boundary spanning' to promote collaboration and innovation. David's cutting-edge business research demonstrates that boundary spanning - creating practices and roles to help people to work across areas of the business - can be crucial to facilitating innovative behaviours.

But David also pointed out that context is crucial - the evidence suggests that working across boundaries delivers benefits most where employees have substantial 'breadth of functional expertise' (they have some expertise in a range of different areas of the business) and strong organisational identification (they are committed to, and believe in the efficacy of, the groups that they are connecting with in the workplace). He also presented evidence that if we want to promote effective collaboration, then the boundaries between teams need to be 'thin' -so that there is scope for people to engage with, and learn from, colleagues outwith their normal work team.

Our Collaboration for Innovation Masterclass provided an exciting opportunity to hear about what's going on in Scotland's innovative businesses and share ideas about 'what works' in workplace innovation. Some of the discussion focused on how digital technologies can be harnessed to facilitate collaboration and innovation, and that's the central focus of or our next Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Masterclass on Workplace Innovation and Scotland's Digital Future in Aberdeen on August 24.

If you are an HR manager or business leader interested in empowering your people to lead on innovation, please do register for our next Masterclass on Workplace Innovation and Scotland's Digital Future in Aberdeen on Thursday 24th August.

We have hugely enjoyed organising the first year of the Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Masterclass series. It’s been fascinating to engage with the more than 250 businesses and stakeholders who have joined the debate at the first four Masterclasses.

You can view the speakers' PowerPoint presentations here.



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