Why employees resist sharing new ideas with teams

New academic research shows that employees aren't working in teams as much as they could be.

Most companies want their employees to frequently pitch new ideas that the business could use to improve its operations.

But new research shows that a significant portion of employees are keeping ideas to themselves and letting them die.

The research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) found that employees often develop innovative ideas alone even though this is less successful than teamwork.

Dirk Deichmann of RSM and Michael Jensen of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, examined through their research the innovation database of a large energy company containing 2,532 ideas submitted over 12 years.

Working in pairs increases chances of idea being taken on

They found that developing an idea in a team – even a small team of two – boosted the chances of it being adopted by the company by at least three times.

However, employees who generate ideas consider the pros and cons of teamwork carefully – including sharing potential rewards – and often opt to complete the task alone despite a reduced chance of success.

People with ideas keep them to themselves

Deichmann says, ‘Our research suggested that when people come up with radical ideas, they are more willing to work in a team to ensure access to more resources, knowledge and skills.

He adds, ‘For less radical ideas, people are more likely to develop them alone because working in teams means increased co-ordination and more effort, which is a disadvantage.

‘However, this can be a costly mistake because working without a team decreases the likelihood of developing a successful idea – no matter what type of idea is being developed.’

The researchers suggest that business should act as matchmakers for employees with innovative ideas.

“Business leaders should understand that working in teams increases the chances of success of an idea by at least three times”

‘Because of this they should be encouraging employees not to work alone when generating innovative plans, products, services or processes. They can even act as matchmakers by helping people to find others they naturally work well with and should be seen to reward teams as heartily as individuals.’

If you’re curious to how you can encourage staff to develop more ideas in the business, there are idea sharing platforms available for businesses who are considering implementing a clearer strategy on internal company innovation.

These are:

Ideanote: This company says it helps teams capture, prioritise and develop ideas inside the business

HYPE: The software says it allows employees, customers and partners to scout trends and submit new ideas that could improve the company.

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2018 to 2019.