Teams & Groups

Understanding Employee Creativity: Individual and Team Processes

Employee creativity is encouraged in order to obtain a competitive advantage and an innovative edge within organizations.  Additionally, team interaction has become an important factor in contextualizing the creative process due to the emphasis on teams within many organizations. Understanding how individuals are affected by a team is important in ensuring optimal creativity within employees.  The context of the team may alter individuals’ level of creativity by way of social influences, while it is understood that dispositions toward creativity also play a role.

Understanding Creativity

Creativity refers to employees’ generation of novel and useful ideas concerning products, procedures, and processes at work. It should be noted that creativity is examined through goal orientation. These orientations can be a result of internal factors in which individuals are influenced by their own personal desire to perform in such a way.  These desires are motivated by individual beliefs without the influence of external rewards.  On the other hand, individuals may also be influenced by external factors such as competing with others, acknowledgement, or avoiding criticism. Note that extrinsic factors can be divided into active and passive approaches: those who seek to attain favorable judgments, and those who avoid unfavorable judgments, respectively.

Individual and Team Processes

At the individual level, intrinsic motivation towards creativity leads to a higher level of learning orientation (the acquisition of new knowledge and inclination towards a mastery of tasks).  Employee learning orientation is linked to an employee’s preference for challenging activities and learning, which may enhance creative problem solving and lead to translating problem solutions into innovations. Working with a team can introduce additional influences and challenges in the learning process.  Teams that seek information, address differences within the group, and question problem-solving assumptions engage in team learning behavior.  This brings about concern regarding the team process of learning behavior:
  • Does team learning behavior influence employee learning and creativity? Team learning behavior influences employee learning and creativity – with the presence of team learning behavior, individuals with a disposition towards learning thrive.
  • Does team learning behavior influence employees’ active approach (those that seek to obtain favorable judgments)? Team learning behavior influences employees’ active approach – those with an active approach excel within the context of team learning behavior.
  • Does team learning behavior influence employees’ passive approach (those who avoid unfavorable judgments)? Team learning behavior controls for those with a passive approach – it encourages them to speak freely in an open and positive group dynamic.

Implications for Practice

Organizations who wish to foster creativity should consider the following:
  • The disposition of an individual combined with team learning yields a stronger relationship with creativity than either one does alone.
  • An emphasis towards learning should incorporate an understanding of the individual’s disposition with a focus on team learning.
  • At the individual level, consider goal orientation in personnel selection and invest in employee learning orientation through training programs.
  • At the team level, foster team learning behavior by way of team leadership that promotes the active environment for discussion and exploration.

Interpretation by:

Adam Bradshaw

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Hirst, G., Knippenberg, D.V., & Zhou, J. (2009). A cross-level perspective on employee creativity: Goal orientation, team learning behavior, and individual creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 280-293.