Employees often develop innovative ideas alone even though this is less successful than teamwork, according to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

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

They found that developing an idea in a team – even a tiny team of two – increased the likelihood 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 – often choosing to continue alone despite a reduced chance of success.

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. 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.

Deichmann says:

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