team outsiders was a powerful driver of progress. Contributions from outsiders challenge sub-team members to rethink their thought processes and counters the perils of sticking to familiar approach- es. In many cases we observed, suggestions and even seemingly naïve questions by outsiders about the sub-team’s assumptions helped to foreground unexplored questions or open up new areas of dis- cussion, and may eventually lead to spark sub- team restructuring, onboard specialists and resolve deadlocks. To illustrate, in one case we observed, a sub-

team was working on a rat model to investigate the metabolic profile of a compound. During a project team meeting, an in vivo biologist discusses her experimental design. A pre-clinical safety specialist attending the project team meeting observes poten- tial differences between rats and mice and their respective similarity to humans. After the discus- sion, the sub-team decides to onboard the safety specialist to investigate the different reactions in rats and mice.

Recommendations for leaders Formal organisational structures are often consid- ered constraints to innovation. Contrary to this view, our study shows that formal structures have an important role in guiding the informal co-ordi- nation practices that lie at the basis of knowledge creation. Leaders and managers of drug discovery projects should ensure they provide the right bal- ance of formal and informal structures to ensure an environment that is congenial to cross-disciplinary collaboration. To understand how such a balance can be achieved, it is useful to consider the varying responsibilities and activities of project team mem- bers forming the core of a particular sub-team, and those members at the team’s periphery. Yet because knowledge creation is a dynamic

process and interdependencies between specialists can only be foreseen to a limited extent, team struc- tures also need to remain flexible and allow for individuals across the organisation to participate and collaborate spontaneously. For this to work, enabling informal co-ordination practices and inter- actions with sub-team outsiders are critical. Project sub-team members, outsiders and team

leaders should share the responsibility of initiating changes to the team composition and onboarding sub-team outsiders when progress falters. Changes in formal team structures require sub-team mem- bers to acknowledge the permeability of team boundaries, identify the need for outside knowl- edge, be open to external opportunities and have the confidence to reach out to other specialists.

Drug Discovery World Spring 2019

Allowing project teams to formally restructure sub-teams also requires a supportive project team environment. Pharmaceutical companies run mul- tiple projects in parallel, each branching out in a number of sub-teams. Such an environment pre- sents a competition for specialists. Against this background, project team leaders should encour- age teams to flexibly change their composition over time, and ensure an environment in which there are sufficient slack resources to enable this flexibility. In conclusion, the flexible organisation of pro-

ject teams adapting to changing scientific questions and balancing formal and informal co-ordination is a powerful driver of progress in complex drug discovery projects. In the pharmaceutical industry where speed to the market is an important compet- itive advantage, managers should think about how to recognise the need for restructuring in a fast manner and allow firms to effectively co-ordinate their efforts. We believe that enabling agile drug discovery teams is extremely important for speed- ing up the innovation process. In this manner, the following questions are highly relevant and timely for managers to consider: 1) How can drug discovery teams become more agile? Which approaches (eg Scrum, Design think- ing, Kanban, etc) could be used to improve co- ordination of drug discovery work? 2) How can digital technologies foster agility in knowledge co-ordination activities?


Professor Zeynep Erden is Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation Management at Vlerick Business School. Her research focuses on the organisation of knowledge-work and the influence of digital technologies on innovation practices in the healthcare and life sciences sectors. Her publi- cations have in various outlets (eg AMJ, DDT). Before joining Vlerick she worked at ETH Zürich.

Dr Shiko Ben-Menahem is a senior researcher and lecturer at the Chair of Strategic Management and Innovation, ETH Zürich. His research focuses on the intersection of digital technology and organisa- tional and team-based innovation processes, and the co-ordination of cross-disciplinary collabora- tion in healthcare, pharmaceutical drug develop- ment, and online communities.

Professor Georg von Krogh is Chair of Strategic Management and Innovation at ETH Zürich. He is also a member of the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF).

Continued from page 60

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