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Grass, Anastasia; Backmann, Julia; Hoegl, Martin (2020): From Empowerment Dynamics to Team Adaptability: Exploring and Conceptualizing the Continuous Agile Team Innovation Process. In: Journal of Product Innovation Management, Vol. 37, No. 4: pp. 324-351
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Abstract

To foster their innovation teams’ adaptability, organizations are increasingly relying on agile teams. While research on the adoption of agile methods and practices has grown tremendously in the past decade, little is currently known about the human side of agile teams and how it contributes toward the emergence of adaptability. While the Agile Manifesto states that individuals and interactions are more important for agile product development than tools and processes, research on how these interactions unfold is still in its infancy. To shed light on the human side of adaptability, 44 semi‐structured, in‐depth interviews were conducted with team members and leaders from various teams at three organizations (i.e., two German and one multinational European firm). The inductive analysis identified empowerment as a focal human factor for adaptability emergence. A model of the continuous agile team innovation process is developed and uncovers the importance of dynamic empowerment states and their temporary equilibria for team adaptability. The underlying findings demonstrate that empowerment is not a static state, but rather emerges through the interactions between various actors. Specifically, the team and its leader engage in both empowerment‐enhancing and empowerment‐reducing activities. These activities are further influenced by the agile team’s immediate context: Two‐fold customer influences, that is, supporting and hindering empowerment interactions, and the organizational environment, that is, undergoing an agile transformation and supportive top management behaviors, play an important role in affecting the empowerment dynamics that result in team adaptability. As such, this study contributes to the innovation and management literatures by revealing the dynamic role of the empowerment and adaptability constructs for agile innovation processes and the importance of various actors and the organizational environment for fostering adaptability. Practical insights are offered to management, teams, and team members on how to create conditions for empowerment dynamics and consequently adaptability to unfold.