Leaders and I-O Psychologists are always trying to discover new ways to improve team performance. New research by Ellis, Mai, and Chrisitan (2013), has found an interesting new way to do this for creative tasks. When team members have different approaches to achieving goals, team performance may improve.
This research is rooted in goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990), which asserts that people who set specific and challenging goals will outperform people who merely “try their best”. Results of the current study also support this classic I-O Psychology theory, but in this case, the researchers went one step further. They also analyzed teams which had two members who set specific, challenging goals, and two other members who were trying their best.
What happened? When the teams were asked to perform creative tasks, these mixed teams outperformed everybody. When the teams performed routine tasks, the mixed teams were not very effective. The authors explain that creative work is best accomplished when team members are able to build on top of each other’s ideas. When one team member has a novel suggestion, someone else will have to “reframe” the idea and offer a practical way of applying it to the problem at hand. This process is easiest to do when team members are approaching problems differently, which is the case when they are using different approaches to achieve goals. When work is more routine, team members will not benefit from having different approaches.
This research is practically important because it provides an easy recipe for improving team performance on creative tasks. Although creativity is naturally strengthened through diversity, the “diversity of perspective” that is suggested here may work better than “social category diversity”, which the authors note can unfortunately sometimes lead to negative outcomes.