Academic journal article Management Revue

A Long Way Home: How an Intra-Organizational Innovation Network Overcomes Its Political Boundaries **

Academic journal article Management Revue

A Long Way Home: How an Intra-Organizational Innovation Network Overcomes Its Political Boundaries **

Article excerpt


Organizations increasingly dedicate substantial resources to initiating and maintaining intra-organizational innovation networks to benefit from the innovative potential of their employees (Neyer, Doll, & Möslein, 2009a; Neyer, Bullinger, & Möslein, 2009b). However, whereas literature in the area of open innovation considerably advances our understanding of innovation community mechanics (Lakhani & Hippel, 2003; Shah, 2006), it seems that organizations still experiment to find appropriate tools and methods to unleash the creative potential of intra-organizational innovation networks. Previous research has identified a variety of reasons for the failure of intra-organizational innovation networks, ranging from lack of motivation (Fang & Neufeld, 2009; Roberts, 2006) to failed knowledge exchange (Bechky, 2003a; Peltonen & Lämsä, 2004). It is argued that knowledge exchange among actors from different domains and specializations is often difficult because of their heterogeneous backgrounds, values and interests (Bechky, 2003b). Conflict of interests has been identified as central factor challenging the success of innovation networks (Ojasalo, 2012). In particular, conflict of interests may result in political boundaries (Carlile, 2004). Whereas other boundaries solely relate to the cognitive dimension of knowledge exchange, political boundaries additionally consist of an emotional component (Newell, Adams, Crary, Glidden, LaFarge, & Nurick, 2006). Given the inherent need for knowledge exchange in intraorganizational innovation networks, we propose that companies have to learn how to support knowledge exchange across political boundaries with appropriate and customized tools and methods. In doing so, companies can create valuable resources difficult to be imitated by its competitors, which enable them to remain competitive in permanent change of environments.

Previous innovation management research discusses the ability of a few selected innovation practices 1 , i.e. collaborative prototyping (Schrage, 2008; Carlile, 2002, 2004), or acting out scenarios (Muller, 2003) to cross political boundaries among heterogeneous actors. However, given the sheer multitude of innovation practices we argue that the time is right for a deeper understanding of which innovation practices and its inherent boundary-crossing mechanisms (Rau, Neyer, & Möslein, 2012) can be successfully applied in intra-organizational innovation networks to overcome political boundaries. Once, organizations are aware of these interrelations, they will be able to build a systematic organizational support system (including for instance distinct types of HR practices, such as trainings or job rotation) to anchor intra-organizational innovation networks in their organization.

To contribute to this discussion, this article focuses on the still understudied link among distinct types of political boundaries and innovation practices and its boundary-crossing mechanisms in intra-organizational innovation networks. In this way, a systematic understanding of boundary-crossing mechanisms allows for the creation of valuable resources difficult to be imitated by competitors. Applying the sociotechnical systems theory, we have conducted a qualitative case study between 2009 and 2012 at the sports company adidas. It includes two projects which serve as two embedded units of analysis.

The article is structured as follows: First, the indicated theoretical perspective is presented. Next, an explication of the applied case study approach is delivered. Then, the case is presented, followed by the case analysis which derives three major findings. Finally, we discuss these findings in the light of previous research and end with a brief conclusion summarizing the contribution of this research to theory and practice.

Theoretical background

In intra-organizational innovation networks innovators, who possess a divergent body of knowledge, which results from their past experience and the context within which they act (Hargadon, 2002) are requested to work together. …

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