Why is Collaboration so hard in Networked R&D?

A recent article in Sloan Management Review on Organising R&D for the Future highlights the hot new trend for companies to organise their R&D by establishing satellite units that operate and collaborate as a network. But the article also points out that “the art of collaboration is one that many R&D organisations have yet to master”.

Of the 1,283 executives across a range of industries surveyed by the afore-mentioned article’s authors McKinsey, 80% believe networked R&D is the way forward. However apparently less than half of the companies operating this model say their people are collaborating as well as they would have liked.

This move towards networked R&D is of course part of the wider trend for open innovation i.e. different companies, their suppliers and their customers collaborating together on projects to develop new products. Every day we see news of deals being signed for collaborative projects and ventures in many industries. But what are companies actually doing to make these collaborations work on the ground? Most companies seem to be implementing structural solutions like new organisation structures, collaboration software and training courses. Are they paying enough attention to changing mindsets and behaviours? In practice there is simply no substitute for action learning to embed a new way of working. You just have to start people working with others, provide appropriate leadership, support and feedback in real time, recognise success and learn from failures.