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Investigating the Not Invented Here (NIH)svndrome: A look at the performance, tenure, and communication patterns of 50 R & D Project Groups

date Dec 11, 2020
authors Ralph Katz and Thomas J. Alle
reading time 4 mins
category research paper


The Not-Invented-Here (NIH) syndrome is defined as the tendency of a project group of stable composition to believe it possess a monopoly of knowledge of its field, which leads it to reject new ideas from outsiders to the likely detriment of its performance.

Typical group that rejects external ideas

General folklore among R&D professionals holds that a group of engineers whose membership has been relatively stable for several years may begin to believe that it possesses a monopoly on knowledge in its area of specialization.

Cons of a stable project

According to the NIH syndrome, then, stable project teams become increasingly cohesive over time and begin to separate themselves from external sources of technical information and influence by communicating less frequently with professional colleagues outside their teams.

Why external knowledge is important

Project members rarely have all the required knowledge and expertise to complete their tasks successfully; information and assistance must be drawn from many sources outside the project.

When does performance peak as compared to tenure

He found that performance increased up to about 16 months average tenure, but that performance gradually decayed with increasingly higher levels of group stability… R & D group performance peaking at a mean tenure of about three to four years.

Focus on product / problem vs function

The project team with its more intense focus on a specific product or problem could be expected to obsolesce more rapidly than a functional group. In the latter case, the fact that members are normally all working within a single disciplineor technical specialty can help group members keep in closer touch with developments within that particular specialty. Contrastingly, members of project teams tend to become over time more narrow and more highly specialized in the technical problem areas associated with their specific project assignments.

Types of communications:

  • Internal
    1. Intraproject
    2. Departmental
    3. Laboratory
    4. Organizational
  • External
    1. Professional
    2. Operational

Some turnover is good

In other words, it appears that project teams perform best when their team memberships have not been completely stable, but where there has been some turnover of team personnel. On the other hand, when tenures are too widely dispersed, performance is also low. Such findings suggest that project groups must balance their needs for gradual turnover with reasonable amounts of team stability. Periodic turnover of personnel may help to keep a team alert and vigilant, but constantly changing membership will create confusion and detract from performance.

Development vs research vs technical service teams

Communication with other members of the R&D staff, of marketing and manufacturing, and of other functions shows consistently positive correlations with performance for development projects… . Communication with colleagues outside the organization is most important for members of research teams. Development project teams isolate themselves most from organizational colleagues; research teams from external colleagues, and technical service team members from each other.

Reason for performance decline

Rather a decline in performance is more likely to stem from a project team’s tendency to ignore and become increasingly isolated from sources that provide more critical kinds of evaluation, information, and feedback.

Communication failures

Thus, overall performance will suffer when research teams fail to pay sufficient attention to new advances and information within their relevant external R&D community, when technical service groups fail to interact among themselves, or when development project members fail to communicate with individuals from other parts of the organization, particularly R&D, marketing, and manufacturing.

In search of stability

Underlying these kinds of change is the basic idea that over time individuals try to organize their work environments in a manner that reduces the amount of stress and uncertainty they must face. According to this argument, employees strive to direct their activities toward a more workable and predictable level of certainty and clarity. The lower levels of intraproject communication, for example, strongly suggest that as project members work together and gain experience with one another, their project activities are likely to become more stable with individual role assignments and contributions becoming better defined and more resistant to change.


The longer individuals have actively participated in and become responsible for a given set of policies or strategy decisions, the stronger their attachment to such policies and strategies even though they may eventually become outdated and inappropriate. Furthermore, in the process of solidifying their contributions and commitments, individuals may come to rely more heavily on their own knowledge, views, experiences and capabilities, thereby reducing their attentiveness to outside sources of information and expertise.