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Research Accelerator – Self-organizing network for interdisciplinary collaboration

With interdisciplinary research we are able to have fresh points of view and study problems too wide to fit one discipline.


Altti Lagstedt

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 19.11.2020

The megatrends of digitalization and globalization force organizations to develop new innovative solutions continuously to survive in the changing and more complex world. As a consequence, the importance of ecosystem-based thinking and collaboration across organizational borders has increased. At the same time, this has emphasized the meaning of society and societal impact, which has raised the need for organizations to re-invent themselves to match better with future needs and purpose. Hence, many organizations are re-structuring themselves and their management according to Teal organization principles (Laloux 2015), where hierarchy is minimized, everyone becomes leader and purpose means more than money – or with similar solutions of self-managing organizations (see Lee & Edmondson 2017).

Similarly, to support our organization’s renewal process and to increase the interdisciplinary collaboration, first within our organization and later on with our partners, we studied how interdisciplinary research could be organized to support the renewal of our university of applied sciences. Interdisciplinarity was seen as an important goal for us, since traditionally over-organizational discussions and research have been rare, and different departments (and disciplines) have been working in separate “silos”. With interdisciplinary research we are able to have fresh points of view and study problems too wide to fit one discipline.

As a solution, we established the Research Accelerator concept. The concept itself was created together with experts and managers from different disciplines and aims to develop our research culture further. The concept is not a fixed structure, but rather a forever evolving function based on as light bureaucratic structure as possible and decentralizing authority, and hence emphasizing the ideas of self-managing organizations of Martela (2019). On the other hand, it reminds us about the communities of practice of Brown & Duguid (1991), as our purpose was to connect different experts outside of the official command chain to generate new solutions together to a shared problem of research culture.

Our initial outcomes of the Research Accelerator have been beneficial: making the work of different researchers visible, enabling knowledge creation and sharing, but also giving room for serendipity. Hence, the concept was developed further and tested with one of our potential international partners to boost collaboration across organizational borders. It was tested in a thematic virtual session and repeated quite similarly as it was conducted within our organization two weeks before. The initial results show that the use of new virtual tools can be challenging to international partners, but the main purpose of connecting people across organizational borders to initiate joint research projects and publications worked well. One relevant insight from this experiment was that the concept can be adjusted to different settings and applied as a partner networking model as well.

The developed concept can be beneficial for your organization as well. If you are interested, contact us for more information and possible co-operation!

Read more about self-organizing teams and multidisciplinary collaboration:

  • Brown, J. & Duguid, P. 1991. Organizational Learning and Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning and Innovation. Organ. Sci., vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 40–57.
  • Gerritsen, M. 2019. Self-management: how to create a self-managed culture? Blog. Published 23.1.2019.
  • Martela, F. 2019. What makes self-managing organizations novel? Comparing how Weberian bureaucracy, Mintzberg’s adhocracy, and self-organizing solve six fundamental problems of organizing, J. Organ. Des., vol. 8, no. 1, 2019, doi: 10.1186/s41469-019-0062-9.
  • Starck, S. & Lagstedt, A. 2020. Creating a Research Accelerator for matching and connecting University disciplines. ICERI2020 Conference paper.
  • Starck, S. 2020. Boosting Organizational Research Capacity with Research Accelerator. Published 1.4.2020. Blog.