Paging the Innovation Department: Structuring Your Organization for Innovation Workflow

Regardless of industry or size, the challenges organizations face in embedding innovation in the workplace are the same.

We all agree that innovation is essential to growth, but how does an organization actually go about making innovation happen? Should the pursuit of innovation warrant its own department or executive? Which organizational structures yield the most innovative ideas?


As part of the Pierpont Endowment with the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, Associate Professor Brad Love and Assistant Professor Jeffrey Treem interviewed more than 60 innovation leaders on embedding innovation in the workplace. Here were the most common responses among the experts:

Don’t Fence Me In

Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo. While a company’s initial instinct might be to name a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) or establish an Innovation Unit, but experts agreed that it’s often a mistake to place the task of innovation on a single executive or department, as doing so often discourages the pursuit of innovation elsewhere throughout the firm. Instead, the responsibility of driving innovation must be embedded and empowered throughout the entire company. Larger companies reported establishing innovation hubs within business units, to keep ears closer to the ground and better discover problems and opportunities.

Tear Down the Walls

Team-based projects are proven to produce stronger work products. Interviewees were astounded at the increase in idea-sharing and problem-solving when they approached problems from a team perspective – particularly when the teams consisted of individuals from various experience levels and departments throughout the company. Some companies are literally ”tearing down the walls” to foster more face-to-face interactions and encourage a culture of openness.

When to Name a CIO

While a company-wide approach to innovation is paramount, there are still some advantages in naming a CIO or Director of Innovation. When that executive is tasked with enabling innovation, rather than being the source of it, the role is infinitely more successful. A CIO can explore all business units fluidly, as well as be a general sounding board for innovative ideas, strategies or questions from employees.

Next week, we’ll explore the inextricable role of failure in innovation, and how a short-term failure can be used to realize long-term operational benefits. Stay tuned to our Sparking Innovation page to learn more.

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