Creativity is More Than Thinking Outside the Box (IO Psychology)

Topic(s): creativity, teams

Topic: Teams, Creativity
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Cognitive team diversity and individual team member creativity: A cross-level interaction
Authors: S. J. Shin, T.-Y. Kim, J.-Y. Lee, & L. Bian
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

A creative team is a joy to own. But how can an organization ensure that their team is acting as a cohesive, effective, creative unit? It turns out that it is oh so simple, but maybe not as rudimentary as you’d think. Join me as we venture outside the box!

When we talk about creativity in teams, we can talk about an individual team member’s creative contribution or we can talk about the creative output for the team as a unit. But none of this is very good if everyone on a team is thinking the same thing (pro tip: that’s not very creative). Instead, we need cognitive team diversity! That’s psychobabble for needing people to think differently, have different knowledge and skills, and come to the table with different values and beliefs. The logical step here (if you follow my creative way of thinking) should be that cognitive team diversity—thinking differently—leads to more creativity among team members. That makes sense, right? If people think differently, they’ll come up with different ideas.

But wait! You don’t think it’s quite that easy, do you? There are two components that we need to add to the model. One is leadership. When a team has a charismatic (“transformational” for those in the know) leader, that relationship between cognitive team diversity and creativity is the real deal. But when the leader is just blahs-ville, that relationship doesn’t hold up. There other thing to look out for is creative self-efficacy among team members. If team members think that cognitive diversity and creativity and all of that are important, it will be. It’s the same relationship as with leadership—if team members have this self-efficacy, it’s all good; but, if team members don’t feel like creativity is warranted or appreciated, it won’t be.

So, good news! Your team can be creative. Just make sure you have the right kind of leader and everyone feels warm and fuzzy about sharing ideas. No sweat!

Shin, S. J., Kim, T.-Y., Lee, J.-Y., & Bian, L. (2012). Cognitive team diversity and individual team member creativity: A cross-level interaction. Academy of Management Journal, 55, 197-212.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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