Teams are a staple of the modern workplace, and for good reason. The collaborative nature of teams allows them to generate innovative ideas and accomplish large goals. But as powerful as teams can be, they are made up of individuals. When individuals join teams, they face the dilemma of how to spend their time and resources. That is, do they devote time and effort to the group with no guarantee that others will do the same, or do they protect their resources to achieve personal goals?
This dilemma is especially problematic when the team is focused on creative goals. Historically, research has shown that creativity is a function of internal motivation, passion, or drive. When creativity is demanded or required by external actors, people seldom produce as many creative ideas or solutions.
THE RESEARCH STUDIES
Across two studies, the researchers (To et al., 2023) surveyed 1000 individuals on teams, both in a work and an educational setting. Over the course of several months, participants were asked to rate their experiences of their team’s externally imposed goals, how much they identified with their team, how much they valued and progressed on their own personal goals, their rankings of their own creativity, and their rankings of their teammates’ creativity.
FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS
After analyzing the data, the authors identified four types of team members, each with their own unique managerial needs. This reviewer named these groups for clarity.
- The Seekers: These people don’t identify much or at all with their team. They are not making progress on their individual goals either. They are seeking motivation and a reason to care and invest in their team. Managers of seekers should focus on providing external support and motivation and emphasize that achieving team goals may help jump-start progress on individual goals.
- The Protectors: These people don’t identify with their team but are making lots of progress toward their own achievements. They want to protect their resources and reserve them for pursuit of their own goals. Managers of protectors should focus on providing them with reasons to care about team goals, typically by explaining how achieving team goals will lead to further success on personal goals.
- The All-In: These people dedicate their full time and resources to the team, leaving little for personal goals. Managers of the all-in should highlight their praiseworthy team identification and internalization of team goals, while providing them resources and freedom to produce creative outputs. At the same time, managers should work with all-in team members to determine the best way to make progress on personal goals.
- The Balancers: These people are highly committed to both their team and their own personal goals. They have found a way to balance their time and resources to achieve progress in both areas. Managers of balancers should highlight their outstanding team identification and give them the opportunity and freedom to produce creative outputs. Managers should also work with balancers to provide necessary resources for both elements of their work, and help them develop coping strategies to protect against burnout.
To, M. L., Lam, C. K., & Amarnani, R. K. (2023). What makes a creative team player? A social dilemma perspective on external regulation and creativity. Journal of Business and Psychology, 38, 671-688.
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