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Groupware and teamwork in R&D: limits to learning and innovation

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In recent years the re-engineering of R&D functions in large multinationals has often been accompanied by the emergence of groupware applications as strategic decision-making tools, while the organization of work has shifted towards various forms of teamworking. There is however, little empirical evidence on the conditions and processes through which groupware and teamworking practices can be efficiently linked. This paper examines the experience in groupware adoption by two large multinationals, Hoffmann la Roche and Unilever, in selected areas of new product development: the final New Drug Application phase for a new anti AIDS drug in Roche and the development along an ‘innovation funnel’ of new oral care products in Unilever. Despite the variety of tasks, organizations, missions and technology deployed, similar themes seem to emerge regarding how large organizations are able to ‘host’ the new groupware applications. Learning processes seem to play a key role in the final integration of the technology in the workflow. Still, what seems to emerge is that despite its critical role, learning is not a sufficiently valued competence, at least in the organizations examined. As a consequence, the innovations tend to drift, lead to unexpected outcomes and many opportunities for learning from (mistakes and) innovations are simply missed. Factors responsible for such a state of affairs seem to be the power of the hierarchical context into which groupware and teamwork are introduced; the continuous jolts to which such context must undergo because of radical shifts in management and R&D strategy; the dialectics between local and global changes.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Theseus Institute (and Università di Bologna), BP 196-06903 Sophia Antipolis, France 2: Warwick Business School, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

Publication date: January 1, 1998


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