Is “Functional Dysfunction” Hindering Your Ability To Innovate?

Posted by Jon Hall on Mar 17, 2014

Is Functional Dysfunction Hindering Your Ability To Innovate?The rallying cry and sincere push for innovation is evident at so many companies these days as they look for ways to create competitive advantage. However, when we talk with leaders in these organizations it quickly becomes evident that many of them are suffering the effects of “functional dysfunction” without being aware of it, or of its limitations. That is, having rigidly defined functional domains that limit the kind of collaborative thinking that leads to true innovation.

See if any of these signs/symptoms apply to your organization:

  • Roles are strictly defined-e.g., R&D "owns" product innovation; Marketing is responsible for consumer insights; Finance runs the numbers; Market Research sets up the research based on the objectives that Marketing has set for the project
  • Communication with your counterparts in other functions is limited to project team meetings/updates on progress against assigned tasks/objectives
  • Development priorities/agendas are set at the top, and aren't easily subject to change
  • "Not invented here" syndrome that won't consider ideas that come from outside the respective function. A sense of functional "territorialism" clearly permeates the organization

This kind of territorial ownership and accountability prevents team members from collaborating and truly unleashing their creative potential. In particular, we’ve found that for many companies the biggest outage is shared, direct exposure to the consumer in the form of ethnographic research, focus groups, or even online forums. In many cases, only members of the function that sponsors the research attends the research.  They may report back to other functions in the form of a research summary or presentation. However, by not having cross functional attendance at the research the organization has lost the value of having different perspectives interpret the research and to start hypothesizing ideas for implications/opportunities based on the insights that are uncovered.

Compounding the issues arising from the functional-specific mindset, different functional groups are often housed in different locations. This impedes the ability to have ongoing, casual and free-form discussions about projects, opportunities, or “what if we were to...” discussions.

So if you’re on a project team, or leading an organization, here are some simple steps you can take to improve the spirit of collaboration among your team:

  • Invite cross functional attendance at all research. Even if the research objective is specific to a function (e.g., getting reactions to new advertising), there is real value in maximizing everyone's exposure to consumers. There may be a nugget that someone from R&D hears that could apply to a product idea, or they interpret consumers' response to the ads in a different way, which could have direct implications for how to improve communication effectiveness
  • Encourage, recognize and reward contributions that span functional lines. For example, maybe somebody from Marketing has a great idea for a new delivery system, an R&D associate has an idea for a powerful product demonstration, or the Finance manager has a new product idea
  • Stimulate serendipitous thinking-by this I mean find ways to get teams together to have more open ended discussions that aren't specifically task-oriented. This could be part of Inspiration Immersion sessions where teams can explore adjacent categories, or even unrelated categories as sources of inspiration. Find ways to regularly build these into your team's schedules. Encourage team members to meet on their own, maybe for lunch or coffee, as a way of building rapport, connection and shared purpose

Making a shared, concerted effort to foster a collaborative, creative spirit throughout your organization will have a significant impact on your organization’s ability to innovate across all consumer touchpoints, and will make everyone’s job more enjoyable and productive.

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Topics: innovation, culture of innovation, product development process