This research focused on collaborative ties in innovating teams in a research and development (R&D) environment of a technologically innovative R&D intensive manufacturing company. The purpose of the study was to determine the relative impact of, respectively, the strength of ties and the breadth of ties on the innovativeness of teams. Significant research has been carried out on strong and weak ties, and on ties related to social networks. The diversity of networks and their corresponding impact on innovation has also received attention. There has however been little focus in the academic literature on the simultaneous functioning of the strength of ties and breadth of ties and their impact on team innovation in the same study.
This research has employed an innovative approach to data collection and a fairly novel and recent methodology for the modeling of the simultaneous configurations of the strength and breadth of ties in enriching the understanding of their contribution to team innovation.
The innovativeness of work teams was determined through a team innovation survey administered to the heads of the groups in R&D and independent evaluators knowledgeable about the innovation activities of the teams rated
E-mail reports on engagement between teams were used to develop measures for both tie strength and tie breadth. Tie strength for an individual was determined by counting the number of repeated interactions firstly with one's own team, secondly with the rest of teams in own R&D, thirdly with the rest of teams in the organization and finally with teams outside the organization. Tie breadth was determined from a count of the number of different people with whom communication took place for each individual. The same categories for tie breadth were created as for the tie strength for interactions above. Hypothesised relationships were tested through fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis.
The results showed that team innovation is mainly supported by tie strength within the organization. In terms of the simultaneous functioning of tie strength and tie breadth, the strongest results were obtained for the combinations of tie strength with the rest of own R&D and the organization, and tie breadth with the rest of own R&D and the organization. These interactions supported the hypothesis that a combination of strong ties and multiple ties provided the most conducive environment for optimal team innovation.
These findings taken together supported the broad view that in mature industries dependent on highly technological processes, interaction within teams and within the firm would predominate, because a shared understanding of a specific strategy and technology base was required. In such a context, cross-divisional interaction also had utility for innovation, as was confirmed by the statistical analysis. It was the combination of many strong ties that produced optimal team innovation. Total external interactions (tie breadth) showed a weaker impact alone. In summary, this has shown that tie strength has a greater impact on innovation than tie breadth.
These findings were derived from an R&D intensive mature industrial manufacturing context and variations in utility are likely to be context-dependent. However, should the company diversify its products or adopt newer technologies even in its mature state, then more external interaction has the potential to add value to the innovation process, as the literature suggests. Thus the study suggests indicated that internal collaboration is a key factor impacting positively on the innovativeness of teams.