The 5 Principles of Innovative Teams

Projects Manager
Building design and construction is incredibly complex.  Countless perspectives and disciplines—from users to engineers, architects, contractors, craftsmen, and financiers—are required to collaborate in order to design a multitude of building systems that will work in harmony, while also being functional and beautiful.  The process we use to bring together these individuals is called integrative design (ID).
Why integrative design? 
To many, this simply means getting more people in the room. But is more people and more meetings really what it takes to develop meaningful solutions?
The Integrative Design Process is the arguably largest determinant of the success and efficiency of a building. Along with the advancement of building technologies, this process is a critical tool in reducing the environmental impact of buildings and supporting the health of those who inhabit them. So it’s really important we get this right.
But with so many people involved, how can we come to better decisions faster?
Most design teams would agree that the Integrative Process is meaningful, but they are often overwhelmed with the number of people that should be at the table and the time required to make decisions in large groups.  They often ask, how can we come to better decisions faster?
IBE: Taking research to practice
In 2009, the Institute for the Built Environment, Dr. Jeni Cross and additional CSU researchers began evaluating what differentiates the best integrative design projects from those that struggled.  From this research, we discovered that team structure was one of the primary indicators of success in the ID process.
We used social network analysis to visualize teams and illustrate the people, relationships, and structure of teams.  These diagrams showed that although diverse team membership is necessary, this is not all that is required to support collaboration and innovation.  Instead, it is the communication patterns and relationships between people that distinguishes successful integrative design teams.
So, how do we create successful integrative design teams?

Through this research, we identified five key principles of Integrative Design.  By using these principles, teams can build a network with the capacity to make better decisions faster.

1. A Facilitator Guides the Team

A trained facilitator is necessary to moderate the interactions on a team and build trust. Facilitators also develops willingness to take risks and openness to learning within the team, while encouraging equal participation.

Every Team Needs a Cat Herder 

2. The Team Establishes Rules of Interaction

Teams must establish ground rules to guide their interaction.  These ground rules most often resemble:
-Everyone knows everyone
-We all have an equal voice & an expectation to contribute
-Decisions are informed by whole group input
-We are all learning and don’t individually have all the answers

3. The Team has Diverse and Inclusive Membership

Innovation doesn’t happen in a team with people who all think the same or have the same perspectives and opinion. Diversity is required in order to bring the unique data, perspectives, and specialized expertise which are necessary for innovation.

4. The Team has a Core-Periphery Structure

The core team is dense and everyone is very connected (everyone knows everyone), but this team reaches out to a periphery of resources to bring in new ideas and information to the group.

5. The Team Utilizes Integrative Decision Making

The team utilizes a process of generating major decisions as a group, vetting them with appropriate individuals, making sure they align with project vision and goals, and refining decisions as a team.

To learn more about optimal team structure, why it is critical to success, and how to create it download the new white paper, the Social Network of Integrative Design.
At IBE, our mission is to advance the development of healthy thriving built environments, and we do this by taking research to practice.  So, take advantage of the other white papers, presentations, and publications in our research library to advance your knowledge and your work.

Social Networks and Innovation

By Reanna Putnam

Sustainable Behavior Associate

Social networks can tell us a lot about how organizational structure promotes innovation. And don’t worry, this post is not about optimizing Facebook and Twitter to boost creativity. The term social network can be used to describe the relationships between any collection of two or more people, groups or organizations with common goals or interests(1).

Figure 1: Structural Holes(6)

There are different theories as to what produces innovation in social networks. One common explanation is that the presence of structural holes, defined as places of disconnection in the network, promote creativity in the individuals nearest to the structural hole(2, 3,4). Individuals who are near structural holes are more likely to have access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations because they are able to draw on information from outside of their immediate connections(2). Encouraging indirect ties that bridge structural holes is a cost effective way for organizations to access diverse knowledge and contribute to innovation without adding to project expenses(5).

Another, perhaps conflicting, way to increase innovation in a network, is through strengthening relationships among members of a design team and creating a more densely connected network. This is important because it can increase performance(7,8,9), reduce conflict among team members(10), and increase in the duration of group membership(11).
Figure 2: Core Periphery Structure (12)

So how do we bridge these two contradictory concepts? One way is through promoting a core-periphery structure. A strong project team will consist of a densely connected core of key decision makers who are loosely connected to a peripheral network form which they draw ideas and information into the network. These loose connections to the periphery network allows for the network to be larger, bringing in new and diverse ideas. Because not all members of the core are connected to the periphery, innovation producing structural holes are formed.

Integrative design teams often take on this core-periphery structure. They do so by having a densely connected decision making core who are loosely connected to a diverse periphery of building users, facilities and operation staff, design specialists and construction professionals. The core-periphery structure allow for integrative design teams to come up with innovative design solutions that produce efficient buildings and increase occupant satisfaction.

(1) Anklam, P. (2007). Net work: a practical guide to creating and sustaining networks at work and in the world. Routledge.

(2) Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas1. American journal of sociology, 110(2), 349-399.

(3) Walker, G., Kogut, B., & Shan, W. (1997). Social capital, structural holes and the formation of an industry network. Organization science, 8(2), 109-125.

(4) Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W., & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996). Interorganizational collaboration and the locus of innovation: Networks of learning in biotechnology. Administrative science quarterly, 116-145.

(5) Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative science quarterly, 45(3), 425-455.

(6) Farral, Kenneth. (2004) Web Graph Analysis in Perspective: Description and Evaluation in terms of Krippendorff’s Conceptual Framework for Content Analysis (version 1.0). Retrieved from:

(7) de Montjoye, Y. A., Stopczynski, A., Shmueli, E., Pentland, A., & Lehmann, S. (2014). The strength of the strongest ties in collaborative problem solving. Scientific reports, 4.

(8) Balkundi, P., & Harrison, D. A. (2006). Ties, leaders, and time in teams: Strong inference about network structure’s effects on team viability and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 49(1), 49-68Lazega 2002

(9) Nelson, R. E. (1989). The strength of strong ties: Social networks and intergroup conflict in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 32(2), 377-401.

(10) McPherson, J. M., Popielarz, P. A., & Drobnic, S. (1992). Social networks and organizational dynamics. American Sociological Review, 153-170.

(11) Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (2000). Models of core/periphery structures.Social networks, 21(4), 375-395.