Structuring for innovative responses to human resource challenges: A skunk works approach

Michal Biron, Helen De Cieri, Ingrid Fulmer, Cai Hui (Veronica) Lin, Wolfgang Mayrhofer, Margarita Nyfoudi, Karin Sanders, Helen Shipton, Jian Min (James) Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasingly, organizations find that they need to be more flexible and innovative in responding to unexpected and emergent human resource (HR) issues affecting their members, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases (e.g., COVID-19) forcing massive transition to remote work, changes in industry landscape altering learning and development, and politically-driven global mobility regulations restricting people flow. Organizations have long utilized informal structures known as “skunk works”, flexible groups empowered to work rapidly with minimal management constraints, to address technological challenges. In this article, we aim to better understand when and how organizations similarly employ skunk works-like structures to help them deal with rapidly evolving HR-related challenges. We discuss three examples of organizations that have utilized this approach. We then integrate the learning insights from these examples to develop a framework supported by a set of research questions to guide future scholarship into HR skunk works. We emphasize that there are both benefits and drawbacks of innovative organizational structures for addressing HR challenges alongside regular, established ways of working.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100768
JournalHuman Resource Management Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Disruptions
  • Innovation in HR
  • Organizational structure
  • Skunk works

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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