Can collaboration platforms promote innovation?

New research from SDA Bocconi’s Massimo Magni published in MITSloan’s Management Review shows how

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Milano, 17 May 2019
Innovation is one of the most admired business outcomes of our era. Yet innovation is so nebulous, and the problems in question so complex, that unleashing its power is a huge challenge.

 

Collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft’s ‘Teams’, Cisco’s ‘Spark’ and Facebook’s ‘Workplaces’, can make a difference - as their recent growth in popularity has shown.
However, their successful implementation, and subsequent impact on innovation, remains uncertain.

How can companies trying to solve highly complex problems with scattered global workforces of diverse and sometimes conflicting teams harness collaboration platforms in a way that genuinely makes a difference?

Thanks to new research from SDA Bocconi’s Massimo Magni, published in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s prestigious MITSloan Management Review, has demonstrated precisely how such platforms can foster groundbreaking innovation.

 

Working with Likoebe Maruping, Dr. Magni conducted a study of over 600 team members, coordinators, and managers who use collaboration platforms to solve business problems. As described in their article, the study discovered three major ways in which collaboration platforms can engender innovation.

 

Global businesses are constantly struggling to integrate their geographically diverse workforces. Without such integration, genuine global innovation is almost impossible. Dr. Magni’s research shows that whether or not teams benefit from collaboration platforms depend on the extent to which they enable activities needed to integrate, and whether the team leaders can create an environment that supports knowledge integration in the digital environment.

 

Once these conditions have been met, collaboration platforms can help to unleash innovation by supporting three key fundamental aspects of teamwork: preparation, execution, and well-being.

‘We found teams were better prepared to integrate diverse knowledge when the collaboration platform allowed them to document their mission and goals, roles and responsibilities, and create a process road map’ write Dr. Magni and Dr. Maruping in their MITSloan Management Review. ‘Setting the stage entails reaching a common understanding of the team’s mission’.This common understanding enables teams to work far more effectively, even over great distances. In turn, this goal-setting gave more meaning to team members’ actions when they happened to be working independently, helping them to stay on track.

 

The second aspect of teamwork that collaboration platforms can help with is execution. Dr. Magni’s research shows that collaboration platforms enabling a wide variety of information formats (such as audio, video, virtual 3D environments, and shared whiteboards) can empower teams to share their work in a way that encourages innovation. ‘Our research shows that collaboration platforms supporting multiple formats gives teams the flexibility they need’ say Dr. Magni and Dr. Maruping.

 

Finally, Dr. Magni’s study demonstrates the enduring importance of fostering employee wellbeing. Since innovation involves intangible, uncertain progress and overcoming enormously complex challenges, it’s often a frustrating process. Moreover, global teams usually have different values and practices, which can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Even without such difficulties, working purely through digital spaces can be isolating and lonely.

 

Therefore, collaboration platforms that encourage team wellbeing through ‘a unified workspace to discuss, share opinions, and work jointly can be seen as the digital “watercooler”’. By offering full visibility of discussions, collaboration platforms allow team members to feel fully included, which in turn helps them feel wanted.

 

Having unearthed these new insights into how collaboration platforms can foster innovation, Dr. Magni underlines the most important factor in unlocking the potential of diverse teams. ‘The key to achieving innovation success through collaboration platforms [is this] — make it about the people — not the technology’

It goes to show that even in an age of rapidly accelerating technological development, harnessing the skills of real people is absolutely vital to success.

 

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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