Leadership in Open Innovation : An exploratory study on the nature of R&D projects and predominant leadership characteristics in industry-academia collaborations

University essay from Umeå universitet/Företagsekonomi; Umeå universitet/Företagsekonomi


This study looks at Open Innovation in Research and Development projects and explores the nature of collaboration and leadership characteristics. Thereby perspectives of both industrial and academic partners are considered, focusing primarily on the project level of the collaboration. It is based on the understanding that leadership plays a crucial role in bringing the partners successfully together, based on the prior understanding that academia and industry are potentially different in the nature, objectives and working dynamics of research and development.  

This thesis begins with examining the existing literature on the concept of Open Innovation, including benefits and drawbacks of such projects. This leads to uncovering the managerial challenges that such projects encounter which can be mitigated by effective leadership. For this reason, relevant theories on leadership are explored, especially focusing on leadership in R&D contexts, as these kind of projects have special requirements from leaders that differ from traditional projects. 

This research is qualitative in nature and takes an abductive approach to theory. 18 semi-structured interviews were conducted, consulting with heads of R&D departments from industrial companies, professors in charge of research labs at universities and representatives from intermediary organisations. The study is exploratory and cross-sectional in nature, as open innovation collaborations in Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands were in the centre of attention. The process of analysis implied the use of a template analysis, which provided the researchers with enough flexibility to code, categorize, and interpret necessary findings.

The results show that the nature of Open Innovation collaborations differs from case to case, from mere contractual relationships to collaborative partnerships with a high level of interaction on a daily basis. The key motive for both partners is finance-based, as the universities gain access to funding and the company can save on research expenses. Additionally, companies benefit from access to academic expertise and from potential governmental funding. 

Further, there is not a single leader in an industry-university collaboration, rather each entity has a leader of their own and collaborative working is fostered by them. It is deduced that no single leadership theory fits best in the operational level of R&D open innovation functioning, rather it is a mixture of a few popular theories which were predominant in collaborative relationships. The characteristics of leaders in open innovation were deduced and autonomy, communication and joint problem-solving have a prominent role in furthering the R&D collaborative relationship. As a result, a connection between leadership and Open Innovation collaborations was explored. 

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