Collaborative Structures for Open Innovation, part 2

When is a collaboration a good collaboration? And what makes some teams work better together than others? In part 2 of my exploration of collaborative structures for open innovation I’ll be developing a simple set of success criteria for the question:

What kind of collaborative structures can businesses use to source and exploit new ideas?

But first, let’s take a look at how collaborative structures work.

Emergent Behaviour and Network Effects 

In this great article on emergent behaviour in groups, the author talks about social negotiation, emergent behaviour and self organisation. As groups grow above a certain size, the art of social negotiation gives way to what you might call swarm intelligence. When a large group is faced with a single task, they tend to look around us and work with what is to hand. This includes both the people around us and the environment we are in. The overall group is not controlled by a central brain, but is distributed with behaviour emerging over time. For a large group setting out to get something done (like ants building a nest or birds flying south for the winter) this is also called stigmergic collaboration.

What does this mean? It means that for large groups in particular, the ability to form groups quickly with those around you is vital. collaboration is not about communication … it is about network effects.

How Groups Work

Social Network Analysis involves the study of the way in which groups form and operate. By looking at the structure of communication between individuals, we can tell quite a lot about the dynamics of the group. Think about the last time you needed to get something done at work (or in some other large group environment). You probably spent a while figuring out who you needed to talk to, then some more time trying to get hold of them, and that’s before you even got started. Collaboration is all about finding the right people at the right time. So what makes it easier in some groups than in others? Here’s a quick list, although you can find out more here.

  • Path Length: how many middlemen are there? The more people you have to go through to get hold of your contact, the harder it will be. Depending on the size of the group, you may not even find them at all.
  • Clustering: how well are you connected? Do you have a lot of shared contacts? Familiarity helps to reduce group norming effects, even if it is second hand (think of being introduced to someone through a mutual friend).
  • Group size: the well known Dunbar number (ok, I didn’t know it was called that) states we cannot maintain relationships with more than 150 people without some kind of help. Flight centre and other large businesses have addressed this by splitting their businesses into smaller self contained groups … reducing path length, and increasing the clustering effect.

Success Criteria for Collaboration in Open Innovation

Open Innovation is about generating and using ideas effectively, by collaborating with people outside of your own business or group. This can be either ‘outside in’ (get ideas from other people) or ‘inside out’ (allow others to use your ideas). So how can we help large, unwieldy groups sort themselves out and collaborate effectively? Here is a quick mind cloud I used to get a few ideas down:

OI Collaboration Success Criteria

1. Groups can self organise, forming and disbanding spontaneously and easily

2. All groups hold a shared vision (at least for a while)

3. Groups can ideate, creating a lot of varied ideas fast

4. Groups actively test out and improve their ideas, experimenting and iterating straight away

5. Groups know how to share. This will include sharing risks, resources and returns.

6. Groups agree on how decisions will get made.

7. Groups can finish what they started. Ideas need to actually get delivered

There must be a lot more potential success criteria. But this is my list for now.  7 steps to collaboration heaven.


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