3M and a Culture of Collaboration


I have talked for some time in this blog about how collaboration powers innovation, and how most of us do not truly collaborate.

One of the key issues in collaboration internally within an organisation is having a culture of collaboration. The challenge with establishing such a culture is to align incentives as part of that culture – more often than not, this does not happen, and while evryone runs around talking about colaboration and innovation, their KPIs and remuneration is securely centred on the “ME”.

BusinessWeek has run a story on how 3M successful harnessed their culture of collaboration to their benefit. While the example in this article is not very compelling (it is of a worker using a corporate skills” directory to find an expert) the lessons learned are reasonable, and I quote them in full here.

Support networks. Build Web-based social networks that help employees with a problem find those with an answer. Support grassroots networking initiatives such as 3M’s TechForum—an employee-run group that organizes speaker events to stimulate thinking and also serves as a kind of mixer, where scientists from different labs or divisions can connect in person.

Build collaboration into your employee evaluation system. Reward employees not just for developing an innovative technology, idea, or process, but for spreading it. No company reaps the benefits of collaboration if their employees or managers are hoarding innovation in order to look good at the next quarterly meeting.

Encourage curiosity. 3M allows employees to spend 15% of their time on projects of their choosing, giving them permission to develop ideas or technologies that may be outside of their regular work focus. Such policies increase the odds of collaboration, as the path of curiosity often leads employees beyond their knowledge base, to a place where they need the advice and insight of others.

Create innovation funds. Group or department managers focused on core-related projects often don’t want to spend money exploring or developing innovative ideas. To overcome this common roadblock, companies should create an alternative source—3M calls these Genesis Grants—that employees can go to for funding of innovation projects that don’t fit neatly into existing departments.

Don’t underestimate the value of physical proximity. When 3M’s Post-it Note team wanted to accelerate product development, it had the team’s marketing, financial, and other nonmembers move into the same building with the tech folks. If different functions have to be housed in different buildings, pay for a shuttle service that makes it easy for employees in different departments to visit each other.

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Filed under Collaboration, Culture of innovation, Innovation

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