Most innovation of importance today is a collaborative endeavor. Whether concerned with new-product development, process improvement or R&D departments, ONA can be particularly insightful in both assessing how a group is integrating its expertise and the effectiveness with which it is drawing on the expertise of others within and outside of an organization.

Challenge: The following group had been formed from highly skilled subject-matter experts drawn from across the organization to develop and disseminate leading-edge manufacturing processes and technologies. In the old structure, these experts were dispersed in myriad functions and business units. In the new, they were brought under one leader to ensure focus and consistency in manufacturing processes and technologies. The network analysis was conducted to find out the extent to which collaboration and innovation was occurring across the new group.

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Key Findings: The ONA provided a great deal of insight to the incoming executive. For example, he was surprised by the central role some employees were playing and concerned with the extent to which some of the leading experts were peripheral members of the group. And while he was pleased to learn of practices in some countries that promoted effective collaboration, he was very concerned with clustering in the network, which indicated that the division was not yet well integrated. The employees were still mostly collaborating only with others in their own country. In fact, the only connections across countries were those of the leadership team and a few relationships formed during past projects.

Changes: In this case, an offsite meeting of the division’s leaders resulted in some recommendations. First, a meeting of all employees was held that consisted of a series of workshops focused on projects under way in various countries. In these joint problem-solving sessions, people not only found solutions and shared recent successes but also learned about one another’s expertise. And to make sure that this was not a one-off event, monthly conference calls were initiated to follow up on the projects discussed during the workshops. Just as important, the firm’s leaders began to adopt policies and procedures that encouraged collaboration throughout the network. First, in hiring they began to target collaborative behaviors in interviews rather than focusing too heavily on individual accomplishment. Second, they changed project management and evaluation practices to ensure that people reached out to relevant colleagues for advice at the start of a research program. Third, the leaders centralized staffing to facilitate cross-group collaboration and to ensure that the best expertise was placed on each research project (rather than staffing locally from each country). Finally, they redesigned individual performance metrics to focus less on individual productivity and more on collaborative behaviors.

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