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Practice 5: Emphasize Interdisciplinary Teams Throughout the Entire Organization

6 October, 2015 - 12:19

In the 1970s and 1980s, many organizations tried to create specialized subunits where their mandate was to make the organization more innovative. This structural approach to innovation largely failed, either immediately or in the long term. For example, General Motors created the Saturn division as a built-from-scratch innovative new way to produce and sell cars. At first, Saturn had spectacular success. However, the lessons learned from Saturn never translated to the rest of the organization and recently the Saturn division was eliminated. 1 Similarly, too many large organizations try to rely solely on their research and development units for innovation, which greatly constrains the idea production and development process. 2

Innovation is clearly a team sport, one that should pervade the entire organization. As a result, ad hoc interdisciplinary teams appear to be the proper structural approach to fostering innovation. Today, IDEO is one of the most innovative firms in the world, and their approach to business is centered around interdisciplinary teams. 3 In sum, the ad hoc interdisciplinary team appears to be the structural solution to innovation, not a self-contained innovative subunit as some suggest.