Open innovation competence : towards a competence profile for inter-organizational collaboration innovation teams

E. du Chatenier

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Global competition and specialisation have resulted in an innovation trend called ‘open innovation’, in which companies develop new products, services or markets collaboratively, by using each others’ know-how, technology, licenses, brands or market channels. A complex form of open innovation is pooled R&D or co-development in strategic partnerships, i.e., open innovation teams. These partnerships embody mutual working relationships between two or more parties aimed at creating and delivering a new product, technology or service. Although inter-organizational collaboration has often proved to be a prerequisite for successful innovation processes, not each external collaboration results in a success story. It appears that the diversity of organizational backgrounds in open innovation teams can be a source of creativity, but also a source of social and communicative dilemmas resulting in conflicts and project failures. Success factors for (open) innovation projects have been investigated extensively, but most studies undervalue and under-investigate the human side. Therefore, the research presented in this PhD dissertation focussed on individual competence in open innovation teams. The concept of competence is used to describe the range of skills and personal qualities people need for a certain job or task. Competence consists of competencies: integrated capabilities, consisting of knowledge, skills and attitudes, which are necessarily conditional for task performance, and for being able to function effectively in a certain job or situation. The main research question guiding this research was: Which competencies do professionals in an open innovation team need in order to contribute to a successful co-development?
A rationalistic multimethod-oriented approach was adopted to tackle the main research question. In line with this approach, five sub-questions were formulated, which addressed (1) the activities that need to be performed in open innovation teams, (2) competency elements needed to perform these activities (3) an optimal clustering of the competencies and competency elements in a competence profile (4) context variation of the resulting competence profile and (5) the link between open innovation competence and team performance. Multiple sources of evidence were gathered to answer the questions, combining qualitative, quantitative, objective and self-reported data to identify and assess competence. Three studies were conducted: an inter-disciplinary literature study, a qualitative study and a quantitative study. The literature study consisted of an extensive literature review combining literature on learning, (inter-) organizational learning, (open) innovation management, business alliances and networks in organizational, management, Human Resource (HR) and educational studies. The qualitative study consisted of explorative interviews and focus group discussions, which adopted the critical incidents technique and took place with professionals and experts from different organizations and intermediaries who had been working in or with open innovation teams (N=37). The quantitative study consisted of a cross-sectional online survey and group interviews with professionals from 15 open innovation teams from mainly prospector companies (N=73).
The results showed that there are three main activities to perform in open innovation teams: managing the overall innovation process, managing the collaborative knowledge creation process (consisting of the four stages externalizing and sharing, interpreting and analysing, negotiating and revising, combining and creating), and dealing with the challenges caused by inter-organizational collaboration (consisting of being a good partner, but preventing free-riding; balancing openness and closure and building trust in a non-trusting environment; balancing individual and alliances interests, creating common meanings, goals and work plans; finding a balance between exerting influence and having no influence; fostering optimal dynamics; finding a balance between being in control and having no control; efficiently and effectively organizing teamwork; mobilizing commitment; balancing short- and long-term goals, stability and risk). The first two studies identified various competency elements to perform these activities, which were confirmed by the third study. Factor analysis on the data showed that the most optimal clustering of the competency elements resulted in thirteen competencies, which were: being able to ‘involve’, ‘influence’, ‘handle conflicts’, ‘create learning climate’, ‘take on’, ‘prevail’, ‘monitor’, ‘decide mindfully’, ‘communicate clearly’, ‘analyse’, ‘explore’, ‘combine’ and ‘compete’. Multiple regression analysis and one-way ANOVA on the data showed that the competencies ‘take on’, ‘prevail’ and ‘communicate clearly’ were perceived as more important in more complex forms of alliances types. Moreover, it appeared that professionals in charge of project management perceived the competencies ‘involve’, ‘influence’, ‘prevail’, ‘create learning climate’ and ‘monitor’ as more important for their role in the project, compared to professionals in charge of product development or process control. Another finding was that participants perceived the competencies as more important when the team had a good team climate, apart from competencies that dealt with competitive behaviour. However, although slight differences were found across different contexts, the competencies were generally perceived as being important; the competence profile can thus be said to be generic, at least within the research population. Multiple regression analysis on the data showed that the competencies significantly contributed to the success of general innovation processes and specific creation processes and were even stronger predictors of team performance than (some of the) environmental factors. More specifically, the reported application of the competency ‘monitor’ was significantly positively related to the success of general innovation and specific creation processes and the application of ‘compete’ was significantly negatively related to the success of general innovation processes. This study not only found a link between competence and team performance, but also found that the competencies explained much variance in the data. These outcomes suggest that for open innovation professionals in general the application of the competency ‘monitor’ will enhance open innovation team performance. The competency not only entails communicating well enough to do one’s job effectively, but also making results visible and trusting others.
The findings contribute to the fields of (open) innovation management and HR in several ways. First, the collaborative knowledge creation model developed adds to the literature by clearly visualizing how knowledge is created at individual and group level, and how the participation and acquisition metaphor and different views on knowledge can be combined into one collaborative knowledge creation model. Second, the outcomes add to HR literature by eliciting information on real problems and challenges, which may occur in complex collaborative knowledge creation processes but were largely overlooked until now. Third, the developed open innovation competence profile adds a new perspective to studies on (open) innovation management that undervalued the human factor in collaborative knowledge creation and innovation processes. Fourth, the results contribute to the fields of (open) innovation and HR, by being one of the first studies that empirically reveals a link between individual competence and team performance controlled for factors at higher aggregation levels. Fifth, the most crucial competency that came out of this study, ‘monitor’, sheds another light on the concept of transparency and trust in inter-organizational alliances. It suggests that the knowledge that needs to be shared specifically concerns the results of one’s own work and that of the team, and sufficient communication to do one’s own work efficiently and effectively. Sixth, the findings confirm earlier suggestions that open innovation teams need strong leadership or a ‘heavyweight’ manager, and the importance of a good team climate in open innovation teams, by revealing a link between team climate and perceived importance of desired competencies. Seventh, the facts that the model contains opposing behaviours and a lack of strong differences across contexts confirm the theory of behavioural complexity. This implies that effective open innovation professionals are those who have, apart from the competencies mentioned in the profile, the capacity to recognize and react to paradox and complexity in their working environment. Finally, the open innovation competence profile covers a broad area of competencies applicable across contexts and describes certain specific behaviours in detail. This result contributes to competency modelling literature by showing that the rationalistic multimethod-oriented approach, results in a profile that contains both information specific to a certain context and at the same time is applicable across contexts.
Future research should focus on comparing open innovation teams, closed innovation teams and other collaboration forms in organizations to reveal areas in which the competence profile can best be applied and the distinctiveness of open innovation competence. Moreover, further research should investigate the robustness of the open innovation competence profile in different situations and the impact of any specific situation in enhancing the use of open innovation competence. Finally, further research should investigate whether HR professionals should support open innovation competence and if so how they should do it. The developed competence profile is highly relevant to practice, since it can be used as a selection, diagnosis, and (self-) evaluation tool in open innovation teams. Organizations are advised to explore the possibility of involving HR professionals in open innovation processes.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mulder, Martin, Promotor
  • Omta, Onno, Promotor
  • Biemans, H., Co-promotor
  • Verstegen, Jos, Co-promotor
Award date9 Sept 2009
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085854425
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • organizations
  • cooperation
  • innovations
  • teams
  • professional competence
  • economic cooperation


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