‘The resilient innovation team – a study of teams coping with critical incidents during innovation projects’ is the title of the PhD dissertation of Peter Oeij.

2017 – ‘The resilient innovation team – a study of teams coping with critical incidents during innovation projects’  is the title of the PhD dissertation of Peter Oeij. 


Why do so many innovations fail? And is there an explanation in innovation-teams’ behavior? That is the fascination behind this study. Can innovation teams learn from teams in High Reliability Organisations (HRO) that seldom fail? The central question of the study is: How do project teams deal with critical incidents during their innovation projects? 

In this study were investigated eighteen teams and their innovation projects within eleven Netherlands-based organisations including KPN Consulting, Unilever, Rijkswaterstaat (Public works department) and TNO. Oeij carried out a questionnaire (also colleagues of the innovative teams were involved), case studies and applied a semi-qualitative analysis of the material (Qualitative Comparative Analysis, QCA). 

Team behaviour
“In the world of HRO’s the presence of psychological safety, learning in teams, team participation and leadership in complex situation – together a mindful (observant) infrastructure – reveals to encourage good results. A mindful work environment facilitates problem-solving team behavior. This gives the team resilience and helps them to cope with critical incidents and it leads to more chances for success." Oeij explains. This innovation resilient behavior (IRB) is based on five principles: 1) Be very alert to things that go wrong or indicate negative consequences; 2) Do not accept simple answers but try to validate the facts; 3) Rule out doubts by unambiguously connecting the broad organisational goals and the team work; 4) Anticipate possible and unexpected failure and ensure resilient responses; and 5) Rank expertise higher than hierarchy. “Of course there are more factors that influence team behavior, but I have restricted myself to the two factors: ‘Mindful Infrastructure’ and ‘Innovation Resilient Behavior’, which are important and work out well for HRO teams," Oeij says. A mindful infrastructure refers to the organizational climate and innovation resilient behavior to team behavior.
Peter Oeij checked whether these conditions also apply to teams in the realm of innovation management. 

Twelve of the eighteen project teams performed quite well and – unconsciously – showed in their process very similar behaviour as HRO teams.
The main conclusion is that indeed a mindful infrastructure and team resilient behaviour are concepts that can be applied to innovation management and project teams working on innovations. 

Practical implications
The book finally offers practical guidelines and a tool to develop mindful infrastructure and Team IRB and be less defensive. And it provides information on the extent to which the behaviors and competencies that underlie the five HRO principles, are present. With this knowledge you can decide whether you want to make improvements and how they should be addressed. The tool is accessible, you go there yourself to get started and develop tools to improve immediately. 


Oeij, P.R.A., (2017) ‘The resilient innovation team. A study of teams coping with critical incidents during innovation projects’. Heerlen: Open Universiteit, Dissertation. The link for the e-book is: https://publications.tno.nl/publication/34622536/QA3j9S/oeij-2017-resilient.pdf   

A document with an English and a Dutch summary is attached.