For many years, we have been trying to understand why some work groups are more innovative than others even though they sit in the same departmental and corporate infrastructures as one another. Understanding why some are more innovative is the key to unlocking the larger problem of increasing overall company innovativeness. The information in this article points to the underlying role of social capital in the working group as the key to increasing innovation capability.
Overall, a workplace’s chance of success in creating innovation at a departmental level depends on 4 points:
- The ability of employees within the work group to effectively share knowledge with one another, which is dependent on knowing who knows what within the group and developing a high level of trust between group members.
- The ability of the team to get access to key knowledge from outside the members of the work group, providing the team with new thinking and novel information and stopping the group from being stuck in its own way of thinking.
- Access to tangible resources increases the effectiveness of access to knowledge by providing the group the financial, equipment, and physical resources necessary to further develop new ideas.
- A set of social-capital-enhancing HR practices to increase the social capital and social context of the work teams that are more consistently innovative – these practices create both the skill and the will in employees in the work group to develop and foster social capital.
While most managers may think it is a given, one key difference between work units that are more innovative and those that are less innovative, is the depth to which employees within the work unit understand who knows what and the willingness of the employees to share their individual knowledge with one another. Often employees are unwilling to share their experiences with other members of the work group if they feel that their knowledge is a source of personal power. They may also feel that their personal performance and pay are tied to what they know as an individual, or they may be concerned that others in the group won’t share information back with them.
Differences in how the group has been selected, socialized, paid, and managed can lead to wide differences in their trust and understanding of the other employees in the work group. By developing a system of effective HR practices, the benefits associated with feelings of familiarity and collectiveness among employees within a work unit can be enhanced— a key step in increasing innovation in a company.