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Do all roads lead to Rome? A multi-case analysis of informal learning and team innovation

Joyce Klein Marodin (Department of Management, Newcastle Business School, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Heidi Wechtler (Department of Management, Newcastle Business School, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Miikka J. Lehtonen (Department of Global Business, College of Business, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 24 October 2023

Issue publication date: 28 November 2023

158

Abstract

Purpose

In this study, the authors use the actor-network theory (ANT) as a theoretical framework to better understand constructing learning as part of the networking process to produce innovations. Focussing on the antecedents of innovation within three teams in an engineering company, the authors propose a framework to enhance understanding of the innovative processes. The authors apply ANT to examine how informal learning is distributed amongst human and non-human actors.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on 27 interviews in a large Australian engineering company, the authors' qualitative investigation shows that innovation can have very different antecedents. The authors mobilised ANT as the authors' vantage point to explore inanimate actors and their effect on social processes or, more specifically, networks and informal learning.

Findings

The authors propose a framework to better understand innovative processes by exploring the network aspects of non-human actors and their connection to learning. More specifically, findings contribute towards a more granulated understanding of how networks, learning and non-human actors contribute towards innovations in organisations.

Practical implications

This study has three significant implications for managers and organisations looking to improve their innovation processes. Firstly, fostering open communication is essential for developing successful innovation processes. Secondly, a close relationship with the customer and/or the final users has often been found to positively contribute to innovation processes. Finally, intrateam motivation is also critical when it comes to creating an environment that supports innovation processes.

Originality/value

Surprisingly, leadership, communication and motivation did not give the best innovative outcome as the authors expected. Challenging traditional theorisations, low teamwork spirit and high individual performance orientation were some of the powerful drivers of highly innovative teams.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Joyce would like to thank Ashish Malik and Jennifer Waterhouse for their guidance. The authors would also like to thank the Editor-in-Chief and the anonymous reviewers for their support and insights throughout the review process.

Citation

Marodin, J.K., Wechtler, H. and Lehtonen, M.J. (2023), "Do all roads lead to Rome? A multi-case analysis of informal learning and team innovation", Management Decision, Vol. 61 No. 12, pp. 3644-3664. https://doi.org/10.1108/MD-08-2022-1062

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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