Does Helping Hurt the ‘I’ in Team?

Topic: Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (DEC 2010)
Article:  Why Seeking Help From Teammates Is a Blessing and a Curse: A Theory of Help Seeking and Individual Creativity in Team Contexts
Authors: Jennifer S. Mueller & Dishan Kamdar
Reviewed By:  Kerrin George

Increased information sharing among individuals can harness unique perspectives that will create new ideas.  One way that information is shared within teams is through seeking help and helping fellow teammates.  Often overlooked, however, is the question of whether this increased demand of helping within teams may come with potential negative consequences with respect to creativity.  

Mueller and Kamdar (2010) investigated the impact of helping behaviors among teammates on creativity (defined as the creation of new ideas that may feed innovation).  Specifically, they examined the impact of employees’ help-seeking behaviors on their individual creativity, and whether reciprocation of help may diminish this creativity.

In general, the authors found that employees that are intrinsically motivated to engage in creative processes (i.e., search behaviors) are more likely to ask for help, which leads to more individual creativity.   However, these employees tend to reciprocate by giving more help to teammates, which predicts a decrease in the likelihood that intrinsic motivation and help seeking will lead to individual creativity, probably due to not spending that energy on one’s own work.  

These findings bear the question:  Does helping hurt individual creativity within teams?

  The authors assert that while seeking help from teammates does occur with the expectation of reciprocation that has some negative consequences for individual creativity, the benefits of help seeking is still underscored.  Thus, they encourage organizations to invest in finding ways to lessen the costs of help seeking, such as formalized roles and processes that facilitate help administration.  This will allow organizations to avert the burden help seekers may experience, allowing for the positive outcome of creativity to lend itself to organizational effectiveness. 

Mueller, J. S. & Kamdar, D. (2010).   Why Seeking Help From Teammates Is a Blessing and a Curse: A Theory of Help Seeking and Individual Creativity in Team Contexts. Journal of Applied Psychology.