Category: Teams

Mixing your teams up is key to group creativity

If you keep team membership constant, people in the team are going to grow familiar, they’ll feel more comfortable, they won’t be afraid to propose ideas, and morale will rise – surely all this is a guaranteed recipe for creativity? Not according to Charlan Nemeth and Margaret Ormiston, who’ve shown that, while stable teams are judged more friendly and comfortable than newly-formed teams, the cost for failing to mix up team membership is a loss of creativity.

One hundred and sixty-four undergrads were arranged into 41 teams of 4. One member in each team just kept notes, so these were really three-person teams. First, the teams were given 15 minutes to come up with ways to boost tourism in the San Francisco Bay area or ways to decrease traffic congestion.

Next, half the teams kept the same members, while the other half of the teams were entirely mixed up, so no two people who’d worked together in the first session were placed together in the second session. The stable teams and the mixed-up teams then worked together for 15 minutes on whichever of the two problems they hadn’t tackled in the first session.

Afterwards, members of the stable teams reported feeling their groups were more creative, friendlier and more comfortable than did the members of the newly-formed teams. But crucially, it was the newly-formed teams who generated more ideas (an average of 28 ideas versus 23), and according to two independent judges their ideas were also better quality and more diverse.

“The current study underscores the theory that ‘change’ and the introduction of new perspectives are more important than comfort, belonging and friendliness for idea generation and creativity”, the researchers said. Managers should avoid the temptation to retain individuals in groups that have previously worked well together, they added. “Rather, teaming individuals who have not previously worked together may better benefit the creative process”.

Nemeth, C.J. & Ormiston, M. (2007). Creative idea generation: Harmony versus stimulation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 524-535.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Want more? Check out these from the Digest archives:
Three-person groups best for problem-solving.
Why do we still believe in group brainstorming?
New team members spark group creativity.
Be creative: don’t even think about it.
What makes a multi-disciplinary team work well?
Admit it – you love work meetings really.

When a good leader is a bad thing

For organisations that have an excellent customer service ethos, strong team leaders can actually have a detrimental effect. That’s the paradoxical finding of Harry Hui and colleagues who investigated 511 employees comprising 55 teams at a range of Chinese companies, including two hotels and a telecommunications firm. The finding suggests companies should be careful to ensure team leaders are in tune with their organisation’s wider service culture.

Employees rated the customer service ethos of their organisation by reporting their agreement with statements like “the business does a good job keeping customers informed of changes that affect them”. They rated the strength of their team leader via their agreement with statements like “Your supervisor often introduces unique insights and plans”.

For organisations with a poor ethos, strong team leaders had a beneficial effect on customer service. But if an organisation’s service ethos was good, then the effect of a strong team leader on external customer service was negligible, while his/her effect on internal customer service (i.e. involving contact between colleagues) was detrimental. The researchers said this “challenges the deep-seated belief that an effective leader and a favourable climate should be additive in their positive impact”.

The apparent paradox of a good leader having a bad effect could be caused by the leader being out of synch with the organisation’s broader service climate. For example, the company may prescribe standardised ways of dealing with customers, while the strong leader may preach innovation. Regarding internal relations: it may be that when leadership is poor, staff compensate by “cultivating a collegial spirit” but that this isn’t necessary with a strong leader.

The findings come with a large caveat, acknowledged by the researchers: customer service (internal and external) was rated by the team leaders who were themselves the focus of the investigation. It’s possible that stronger leaders had higher expectations regarding customer service, and so rated their team members’ performance more harshly.

Hui, C.H., Chiu, W.C.K., Yu, P.L.H., Cheng, K. & Tse, H.H.M. (2007). The effects of service climate and the effective leadership behaviour of supervisors on frontline employee service quality: A multi-level analysis. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 80, 151-172.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

What makes a multidisciplinary team work well?

The benefit of having a multidisciplinary team filled with a diverse range of skills and expertise seems obvious – just look at the Fantastic Four. And yet past research on this issue has been inconsistent, with some studies even suggesting that a team’s diversity can have a negative effect. One apparent drawback is that team members with shared backgrounds tend to organise themselves into opposing cliques.

Now Doris Fay and colleagues have proposed that the benefit of being multidisciplinary is dependent on whether certain group processes are working well.

The researchers looked at the quantity and quality of innovations introduced by 70 Breast Care Teams and 95 Primary Health Care Teams working in the UK. The number of professions represented in each team varied from 4 to 12 (including nurses, surgeons and psychologists), and this was taken as the measure of how multidisciplinary a team was.

Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, teams that were more multidisciplinary tended to have introduced more innovations over the previous year, regardless of whether effective group processes were in place. Crucially, however, the quality of the innovations (e.g. as measured by their benefit to patients) was dependent on group processes. Teams with more professions on board only introduced innovations of greater quality when effective group processes were in place – including all team members being committed to the same cause; everyone in the team being listened to; the team reflecting on its own effectiveness; and there being plenty of contact between team members.

“From a practical perspective, the most eminent question is how to establish team processes that help capitalize on multidisciplinarity”, the researchers concluded.

A shortcoming of the study, acknowledged by the researchers, is its cross-sectional methodology – it’s possible that generating better quality innovations has a beneficial effect on a team’s group processes, for example by engendering greater team cohesion.

Fay, D., Borrill, C., Amir, Z., Haward, R. & West, M.A. (2006). Getting the most out of multidisciplinary teams: A multi-sample study of team innovation in health care. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 79, 553–567.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link 1, Link 2, and Link 3, to related Digest items.

Admit it, you love meetings really…

Employees are always in meetings these days and the popular consensus is that, at best, they’re a chore, and at worst, they’re a serious disruption to productivity. But when Steven Rogelberg and colleagues surveyed 980 employees in America and the UK, they found no association between employees’ time spent in meetings and how positive or negative they felt about their work, or how well they felt in general.

“It may be socially unacceptable to publicly claim that meetings are desirable. Instead, a social norm to complain about meetings may exist – not doing so could reflect poorly on the employee”, the researchers said.

In the first study, hundreds of employees completed an online survey that asked about the number of meetings (and time spent in meetings) they typically had in a week. In the second study, participants answered questions about meetings they’d had that same day.

Overall participants who endured more meetings were just as positive about their jobs as people who had few meetings. However, employees who reported being particularly goal driven did tend to be negatively affected by meetings. Moreover, in the first study, participants whose responsibilities didn’t require working with other people were also negatively affected by meetings. Finally, the perceived quality of meetings had an impact on employees’ attitudes in the second study but not the first, probably because they were recalling specific experiences from that same day rather than responding more generally.

“Trade literature argues that perceptions of meeting effectiveness would appear to be promoted to the extent that people come prepared to meetings, an agenda is used, meetings are punctual, purposes are clear, and there is widespread attendee participation. We recommend that organisations include such factors in good-practice guidelines for the conduct of their meetings”, the researchers said.

Rogelberg, S.G., Leach, D.J., Warr, P.B. & Burnfield, J.L. (2006). “Not another meeting!” Are meeting time demands related to employee well-being? Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 83-96.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Jokes are a serious part of business

Most textbooks fail to discuss the role of humour in business negotiations but from her analysis of two real-life meetings concerning a multi-million pound transaction, Taina Vuorela at the Helsinki School of Economics reports that humour can be an important strategic tool for negotiators.

Vuorela first sat in on an internal strategic meeting held by sellers – four British men and a Finn – at a Finnish company that manufactures engines for use in power plants. She then sat in on a meeting that took place hours later between those sellers and a team of British and Irish buyers representing a British power company.

She found that joking was a sign of power, so that in the second meeting it was the chief buyer who initiated and ended most of the joking. His authority was betrayed by the fact everyone laughed at his jokes. “Based on my observations as a researcher…the quality of his quips did not deserve the level of laughter they received…the sellers seemed to be showing their respect for the head buyer in this way”, Vuorela said.

Humour was also used to express frustration. “It was a ‘safe’ way to express discontent because it permitted the speaker to express a problem while at the same time saving his face or that of the interlocutor because the joke was ‘off-the-record’ and not an official part of the negotiation”, Vuorela explained.

Experts tend to advise against using ethnic humour in business deals but Vuorela found that jokes about cultural differences were common. “Joking about your own national characteristics seems to be an acceptable way to produce ethnic humour”, she said.

Finally, there was evidence of unsuccessful humour – for example, although the sellers joked about their product in private, they did not respond to jokes about their product made by the buyers.

“Although consultative business communication guide books warn negotiators against using humour in multicultural negotiating, the data from this study indicate that disregarding humour in such business meetings would leave a negotiator on the ‘outside’ of the process”, Vuorela concluded.

Vuorela, T. (2005). Laughing matters: A case study of humour in multicultural business negotiations. Negotiation Journal, 21, 105-130.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to Laughlab

New team members spark group creativity

Here’s a research finding to console Prime Minister Blair following his latest unplanned cabinet reshuffle. Apparently, substituting a team-member for a newcomer can help increase group creativity. That’s according to Hoon-Seok Choi at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea and Leigh Thompson at Northwestern University, USA.

They compared the creativity of 33 three-person groups across two tasks. After the first task, half the groups exchanged one of their team for a newcomer from another group, whereas the other half of the groups kept the same personnel throughout. The first task required the groups to think of as many ways as possible to categorise 12 vegetables into subgroups (e.g. can be eaten raw vs. cannot be eaten raw). The second task required the groups to think of as many uses as possible for a cardboard box.

There were no differences between the groups in the number of vegetable sub-categories they thought of. But those groups who swapped one of their members then went on to think of significantly more uses for a cardboard box, and significantly more different kinds of uses, than did the groups who’d kept the same personnel throughout. Analysis of the contributions made by each individual showed that a newcomer to a team increased the creativity of the two original team members.

The researchers cautioned that things are more complex in real-life scenarios. For example, recomposition of team membership could lead to interpersonal conflict and of course creativity isn’t always the aim of a group. However, they concluded that “For the most part, introducing new talent to the group can ensure that the group does not go stale”.

Choi, H-K. & Thompson, L. (2005). Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 98, 121-132.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.