By Todd Wallace, PMP
Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line. Elon Musk did not invent electric cars. While these men all had a hand in growing the success of these products, none of them was the actual inventor, and none of them did it all on their own.
Much like any accomplishment in the public or private industry, it is easier to associate a major innovation with a single person—this is called the Great Man Fallacy.
However, it is a larger group with input from many sources that moves a concept forward—if two minds are better than one, then a team of minds is best.
Thomas Edison had a team of inventors working at his “invention factory” in New Jersey. Edison was the boss, but the team members helped with the various inventions that came out of their shop. It’s said that Edison tested 6,000 materials before he found the right combination for his version of the lightbulb and it is highly unlikely that he tested all 6,000 materials himself while his team stood by and watched.
Elon Musk is the face of electric cars with Tesla. His name is associated with the revolution of alternative fueled vehicles. However, before Elon Musk was even involved, Tesla was utilizing game-changing lithium ion batteries instead of the bulkier lead acid batteries used by other electric vehicles of the time. Before even this, other car manufacturers had already tried their hand at electric cars—in fact, in 1884, Thomas Parker produced the first electric car in London. Elon Musk may be the face of the modern movement and people may associate him with the invention of the electric car, but in reality, it was a long line of tweaks and updates by many teams consisting of many great minds—before Musk even entered the game.
These examples may be from the private sector, but the same concept applies to the public sector. While the head of a state agency might be the only person named in the news headline, a successful project implementation is due to the hard work of a large team.
The primary difference between innovation in the private sector and innovation in the public sector is the importance of teamwork.
In the private sector, it is possible for one person to invent something in their garage and bring it to market entirely on their own. In the public sector, nothing is done entirely by one individual. Gathering requirements for a project must reach across departments or other agencies to ensure the application will work in the larger ecosystem. Development is a constantly evolving team effort and closely tied to testing, which goes back to the multi-departmental team for review and approval. Implementation needs to be coordinated with everyone to ensure no reverberating effect on other teams and departments. Throughout all of this, there are competing priorities by various key stakeholders that need to be negotiated in order to keep the project moving forward.
In the private sector, negotiations can involve many different variables and creativity in terms of what can be offered. In the public sector, you cannot offer nearly as much in negotiations, so a relationship and understanding of how groups work with each other is key. Having an established relationship is the strongest negotiation piece in the public sector. Teamwork allows for smoother negotiations and effective advancement the project.
Teamwork is what makes a project a success. The ability to work together and build relationships allows a project to move forward. It would be a lot easier for a “Great Man” to implement a project and not have to worry about anybody else—but the results of the “Great Team” will always create something better.
About the Author: Todd Wallace is a Senior Project Manager with KAI Partners, Inc. He started his professional career as a student assistant in the special projects department of a state agency and worked as a state employee for over 7 years before transitioning to private sector and consulting to state agencies. He has a BS from CSU, Sacramento in Small Business Operations and an MBA from UC, Davis in Entrepreneurship and Strategy. In his free time, Todd loves tinkering on cars and motorcycles and has a passion for innovation.
1 thought on “Why Teamwork is Necessary for Innovation in the Public Sector”
Nice article Todd. Very well written.