One way to boost creativity in your team

It doesn’t matter how creative a person thinks they are, if they’re not able to share their knowledge and expertise amongst their team mates, they won’t have confidence that the team can be creative too.

For research carried out as part of his Msc in Organisational Psychology in 2013, Business Psychologist Jonti Dalal-Small identified that a team’s collective belief in how creative they are can be boosted by 50% if there was a good shared knowledge of who knows what.

Jonti set out to fill gaps in knowledge around team creativity – a previously neglected part of academic research:

“Academics have studied creativity at an individual and organisation level quite extensively, but have neglected teams. But teams are the exciting bit of creativity”

In his research, he came across the concept of team creative efficacy“the team members’ shared beliefs in the team’s ability to generate creative ideas”. This fascinated him because at the time, many different research strands were converging to suggest that this was a powerful way of studying team performance.

Why you should care about team creative efficacy

Although team creative efficacy itself is not about actual performance, research has shown that a team’s perception of how creative they are, does affect their actual creativity – a self-fulfilling prophecy if you like.

So it’s important to take into account the factors that lead to how a team assesses themselves.

What did the research find?

The research came from 46 teams across a spectrum of professions and industries – teachers, journalists, the NHS, and a HR department in Singapore. By using such a wide sample, Jonti wanted to demonstrate that creativity is fundamental to so many tasks, not just traditional creative and innovative teams such as those in R&D.

The methodology required people to rate statements such as: “I have confidence in my team’s ability to solve problems creatively” and “My team has a knack for further developing the ideas of other teams.”

He found that even if an individual thinks they are creative, this has negligible impact on the whole team’s belief that they are also creative. So team creativity is not just the sum of individual parts – there is something very different happening. It’s not enough to just throw creative people together and hope they’ll have a creative outcome.

The research also challenged the belief that, other things being equal, more diverse teams are better for creativity and collaboration. Firstly, it’s cognitive diversity (thinking styles, beliefs, values) not demographic diversity (age, gender, nationality) that makes the most difference. And even then, more diverse teams tend to have lower team creative efficacy. In fact, the more homogenous a team, the more creative they believed they were. That’s not to say that we should always try and have teams made of similar people – there’s extensive evidence that diversity is valuable to creativity, but it has to be handled carefully.

Finally, the research found that the more team members communicated their shared knowledge, the more they believe the team can be creative. This is because they know how and where to tap into the team’s expertise. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re working virtually or not. It’s the way they are communicating – not the technology they are using – that matters.

So what does this mean for you and your team?

  • When bringing together teams, regardless of how creative each individual believes they are, there’s work to be done to ensure the team as a whole has this belief too
  • Be aware when working with cognitively diverse teams, who are likely to think they will be less creative, and take steps to harness the differences in a positive way
  • Most importantly, pay attention to how the team are sharing knowledge and information, as this is what has the most impact on how creative they think they will be.

You can find out more about Jonti Dalal-Small, his research and business psychology over at www.cultureeatsstrategy.org.

Image by Howard Lake on Flickr

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