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A New Way to Setup Teams?

03.26.08 | Permalink | Comment?

What do Ethernet and the original graphical user interface (shown below) have in common?

Xerox Star GUI

Both were ignored by their company. They were invented at Xerox’ famous Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC. Xerox didn’t know what to do with them.

These examples illustrate a long standing dilemma of organizations, especially the large ones: how can researchers and innovators get the attention or even the championing of management? Managers face a different issue: when and how do they tell a brilliant researcher that his or her idea is too nutty, that way too much time and money has been wasted on it already?

Shake Up at HP Labs

HP Labs’ new director, Prith Banerjee, is trying to do things differently now. He reorganized HP’s 600-person research operation into 23 groups, each headed by a lab director. According to the March 17 issue of EE Times:

HP gave secret ballots to every researcher in its lab to choose the one lab director “out of 23” with whom he or she most prefers to work. In parallel, HP asked its lab directors to confidentially select their first and second choices among the 20 researchers they would most want on their team.

According to Banerjee, the confidential voting on both sides yielded an 80 percent match between lab directors and researchers.

This sounds simple but is very important for R&D organizations to function well. A research environment has less structure than a typical corporation; it is all about the free flow of ideas and team work. If the lab director does not champion it, a great idea will end up in the Great Graveyard of Great Ideas — or worse, it will be handed on a silver platter to another company, possibly a competitor.

[Full EE Times article “HP Labs braces for impact” and commentary “Will eHarmony work for R&D match-making?”]

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