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Co-operation without frontiers

The importance of innovation is universally acknowledged. But, actually delivering innovation requires what Lynda Gratton calls ...

By Lynda Gratton 01 June 2006

The importance of innovation is universally acknowledged. But, actually delivering innovation requires what Lynda Gratton calls boundaryless co-operation. She presents the findings of a five-year long study of what makes successful innovators tick.

Cooperation without frontiersInnovation is the hottest topic in today’s corporate world. The logic is clear. After all the costs are taken out and the merger activities begin to subside – how else will value be created? Executives across the world realise that only through innovating products and services, practices and processes – will their companies continue to grow and flourish.

But what sort of innovation and how? It is the question of how that has been at the centre of my research agenda for the last five years. Through research supported by the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) we have discovered that companies which are capable of innovating are excellent at what we label, boundaryless cooperation. Simply put, they are past masters at encouraging teams, groups, communities and networks capable of crossing functional, business and organisational boundaries.

The reason why boundaryless co-operation is so crucial to innovation can be attributed to one simple fact. There may have been a time when high-performing individuals, or even highperforming teams, could make a real and lasting difference on their own. But, in today’s hyper competitive world almost all innovation is not about individuals, but about relationships and, particularly, those relationships that cross boundaries. This positive impact of boundaryless co-operation is at the heart of successful mergers and acquisitions, and the basis of the pooling of ideas and resources that results in innovative products and services. Increasingly innovation is the result of what people do and communicate across boundaries, whether between teams, functions, businesses, or indeed between the company and its customers and partners.


Morphology


Yet, paradoxically, boundaryless co-operation has never been more difficult. Team memberships morph and reconfigure as talent rapidly moves around the company; functions are renamed, realigned and reconstituted; and business units change their name and their shape with alarming regularity. Executives always had to manage across boundaries, but now the borderlines are porous rather than impervious, and fluid and dynamic rather than static. We have discovered that those executives who have actively built boundaryless cooperation do so in their own unique ways.


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