Much innovation springs from collaboration in the current age. No longer do the talents required to develop new products, services and processes reside within a single individual, discipline or department. 

In some circumstances, companies need to collaborate with people they don't even "own" or control as innovation turns to the "crowd" for ideas, insights and imagination, such as in Unilever, Metro Bank and Innocent. This requires a completely different approach to the management and motivation of such people. HR and OD must respond with strategies and tactics that make horizontal co-operation as important as hierarchical management.

In this brief extract from my new book "Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise" I explore a more organic outlook on OD and Structure, rather than the industrial models that have characterised the last 150 years of thinking on the topic.

How do bees build the human equivalent of cities without Microsoft Project, a decision tree or a Gantt chart? How do they co-ordinate complex affairs without SOP’s, lean thinking, Six Sigma etc? Bee colonies have flat structures. There is one boss, who is a woman. The HR (Hive Resources) Department has identified a few specialised roles: workers; drones. No single bee wants to become Senior Vice President of Pollination (SVPP) or CEO (Chief Ecology Officer). Bees do not have extensive Compliance divisions requiring every flower to be checked for PC (Pollen Coefficient) …

Within this slightly whimsical comparison are some very serious points for HR and OD people trying to design their enterprises to make the most of their talent through collaboration:

  1. Keep structures as simple as possible, especially if the work is complex. Organisation structure can be an enabler or an obstacle. Make sure it is an enabler
  2. Actively encourage networking outside of functions and even outside the enterprise if you want your people to learn faster than competitors
  3. Use external agents to stimulate your "corporate synapses" by adding difference to your own core competences
  4. Don't let structures ossify to the point that they become "walled silos" – innovation comes out of flux and change. Tim Smit, CEO of The Eden Project makes this point well in his interview Structuring the Garden of Eden
  5. Design rewards and recognition to encourage collaboration – something I was discussing with an HR function in a Pharma company just the other week