Group creativity in team and organizational innovation
Judge Business School,
University of Cambridge
Michael A. West
Lancaster University Management School,
Claudia A. Sacramento
Aston Business School,
Address correspondence to
Judge Business School
Trumpington Street, Cambridge
Accepted for publication in P. Paulus and B. Nijstad (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of
Group Creativity and Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press. We would like
to thank Andreas Richter and Eric Rietzschel for their comments on earlier versions of
this book chapter.
Innovation in Work Teams
“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may
start a winning game.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
In this chapter we argue that in order to understand and promote innovation in teams it
is necessary to consider not only the factors that facilitate creativity but also those that lead to
the implementation of ideas into practice and action. We can think of innovation as a two-
stage process, comprising both the generation of ideas, usually referred to as creativity, and
characterised by suggestions regarding new processes, products, procedures, or strategies, that
are novel in the workplace and can be of value (Amabile, 1996; West, 2002), and the
implementation of ideas, which refers to the process undertaken to translate the initial
suggestions into reality (Kanter, 2000; West, 2002). Most reseach conducted under the badge
of either creativity or innovation has, however, treated creativity and implementation
interchangeably, or has used measures which simultaneously tapped into both aspects of the
innovation process (e.g., Scott & Bruce, 1994). Although this contributes to an understanding
of the factors affecting the innovation process as a whole, we argue that a more fine grained
approach would be of value, and it would help to explore how predictors of creativity and
implementation differ. This would enable us to understand how to strategically promote team
processes over the course of an innovation project appropriate to the requirements of each
In this chapter we aim to provide an overview of the factors that influence team
innovation as a whole, and to suggest the variation in importance of these factors at these
different stages. As noted above, limited research has examined these elements in isolation,
particulary when considering the implementation of ideas. There are some exceptions (e.g.,
Axtell et al., 2000; Baer, 2012; Clegg, Unsworth, Epitropaki, & Parker, 2002; Frese, Teng &
Wijnen, 1999), and a recent meta-analysis, that identified a few different predictors for
individual creativity and implementation (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011), but
we still know very little about possible differential effects across these stages. Thus, our
reflections will often be exploratory rather than grounded on firm empirical evidence, but we
hope these explorations will stimulate future research.
Figure 1 offers a framework of the factors identified in research as likely to influence
innovation in work groups and uses an input-process-output structure. In our depiction, we
additionally highlight those factors that we believe are more relevant for creative idea
generation (marked with a “c”) and innovation implementation (marked with an “i”). Our
framework artificially segments variables into inputs of teams such as the task the team is
required to perform (e.g., provide health care), the composition of the group (such as
functional, cultural, gender and age diversity), and the organizational context (e.g.,
manufacturing, health service, large or small). Group processes mediate the relationships
between inputs and outputs and include levels of participation, support for innovation, and the
management of conflict. These processes create climates of, for example, safety and trust or
threat and anxiety. We propose that leadership in teams plays a crucial role in moderating the
effects of organizational and team context upon team processes and thereby upon innovation
outputs. Outputs include the number of innovations, magnitude of innovation, radicalness
(changes to the status quo), novelty and effectiveness of innovation in achieving the desired
end. We will consider each of these elements of the framework below. But first it is important
to define what is meant by innovation.
We conceptualise innovation as a two-stage process consisting of creativity and
innovation implementation (or idea implementation). Creativity at work is defined as a
process outcome that is both novel and useful (Amabile, 1983). Innovation implementation, in
turn, involves the implementation of novel and useful ideas in practice (Klein & Sorra, 1996).
As creativity emphasises idea generation and innovation the implementation of these ideas,
creativity is often conceptualised as a first step in the innovation process (Amabile, 1988;
West, 2002). Creativity therefore predicts innovation implementation (Axtell et al., 2000;
Baer, 2012) in the sense that for ideas to be implemented they need to be generated in the first
place. However, while a person or team can be creative and generate ideas independently, the
implementation of these ideas is a social-political process which will in most cases require the
involvement of others (van de Ven, 1986). Thus although it is reasonable to assume that many
factors are important for both processes (e.g., transformational leadership, Gumusluoglu &
Ilsev, 2009), it is also likely that the weight of these factors on creativity and implementation
will vary (Axtell et al., 2000); that the mechanisms by which certain factors affect creativity
and implementation might also differ; and that factors that influence one might not be relevant
for the other. This latter question was initially explored by Axtell and colleagues (2000), who
found that suggestion of ideas was more strongly related to individual (personal and job)
characteristics, whereas implementation was more strongly predicted by individual
percepeptions of group and organizational characteristics.
What input, process and output factors therefore influence levels of creativity and
implementation, and consequently of innovation in work groups? We begin by considering
the effects of two major categories of input factors: team context and organizational context.
-- Insert Figure 1 About Here --
Inputs include, most importantly, the task that a team is required to perform as well as
its characteristics. Then we consider the characteristics of the people who make up the team,
the abilities and skills they bring, the role of team diversity (e.g., functional or knowledge
diversity), and the length of time they have worked together.
The task a group performs exerts a fundamental influence on the work group, defining
its structural, process and functional requirements. For example, primary health care teams,
which maintain and promote the health of people in local communities, have multiple
stakeholders and a wide variety of tasks (Slater & West, 1999). Their team tasks vary in the
extent to which they are difficult, unitary and divisible, or whether they provide a basis for
conflict or co-operation; and demand both behavioral and conceptual responses. Task
characteristics that foster innovation implementation include completeness (i.e., whole tasks),
varied demands, opportunities for social interaction and learning, autonomy, development
possibilities for the task, and task significance (Hackman & Oldham, 1976; West, 2002). The
wholeness of a task refers to the degree of independence in goal setting, whereas task
significance represents the meaningfulness of a task in affecting other people’s lives
(Hackman & Oldham, 1976). For example, the work of a nurse working on an intensive care
unit is characterised by high task significance as its proper execution directly affects the
health of patients. Such conditions, according to theorists, will produce ‘task orientation’,
which is a state of interest and engagement produced by task characteristics (West, 2002).
This is similar to the concept of intrinsic motivation that Amabile argues is so fundamental to
creativity and innovation at work (Amabile, 1988).
Liu et al (2011) used George and Zhou’s (2002) scale (which predominantly captures
creativity) and found that a higher level organizational autonomy support compensated for the
effects of both lower team-level autonomy support and team members’ individual autonomy
orientation in leading to creativity, and this effect was mediated by team members’
harmonious passion for work (i.e., a state where work tasks are internalized as part of one’s
identity and personally enjoyable). Thus, when it comes to leveraging creativity at work by
allowing employees to be more autonomous, introducing organization-wide policies for
autonomy support seem to be more efficacious than team-level autonomy support or
individual predispositions towards being more autonomous. Axtell and colleagues (2000) had
before found that autonomy was more strongly related to idea generation than idea
implementation, so together these findings would suggest that autonomy might be more
important for the generation of ideas than for their implementation. If team members perceive
high levels of autonomy they will be more likely to share their views on how problems could
be solved, processes improved, and potential new products developed. This in turn will lead
to more intensive communication, stronger task focus, and increased information elaboration
which in turn are associated to individual and team creativity. Autonomy is, of course, still
relevant when it comes to finding the means to put ideas into practice. For instance team
members will be more likely to seek support if organizations give them discretion to do so,
but the role of autonomy at this stage is less critical, as most teams with high levels of
autonomy are still dependent on other organizational stakeholders and resources to implement
Several studies have investigated the impact of goal interdependence on innovation as
a means of facilitating social interactions and learning at work (van der Vegt & Janssen, 2003;
Wong, Tjosvold, & Liu, 2009). For example, Wong and colleagues (2009) found that
cooperative goals are related to team innovation via increases in group potency and a
perceived climate for initiative. However, van der Vegt and Janssen (2003) paint a more
complex picture by identifying boundary conditions of the relationship between group
interdependence and innovation. Studying 343 members of 41 work teams, they showed that
task interdependence is only related to team innovation where there are both high levels of
perceived goal interdependence and of demographic and cognitive group diversity.
Initial evidence is also available on the impact of job variety (i.e., the degree to which
a job involves various activities, requiring the development of further skills; Hackman &
Oldham, 1976) on organizational innovation. Shipton and colleagues’s (2006) study of 3717
employees in 28 UK manufacturing organizations showed that job satisfaction of employees
is particularly positively related to organizational innovation where their work offers a high
degree of job variety.
In summary, the extent of group autonomy (in an organizational context that supports
innovation) and the task requirements of completeness, varied demands, opportunities for
social interaction, opportunities for learning, and development opportunities will predict
group creativity and innovation implementation, while we expect autonomy to play a stronger
role in the former. In the next section, we consider another key input variable: team member
Team member characteristics
Given a team task, the innovation process begins with the creativity of individuals.
The generation of a new idea is a cognitive process, located within individuals, albeit fostered
by interaction processes in teams (Amabile, 1988). Thus, first and foremost, innovative
individuals are both creative and innovative (i.e., they don’t just have creative ideas; they also
try to implement them).
A number of studies have examined personal characteristics associated with creative
and innovative individuals (for a review see Barron & Harrington, 1981; Feist, 1998). They
are people who have appropriate intellectual abilities, including synthetic abilities (to see
problems in new ways and escape the bounds of conventional thinking) and analytic abilities
to recognise which ideas are worth pursuing, as well as practical contextual abilities to
persuade others of the value of their ideas (West, 2002). For example, Miron-Spektor and
colleagues (2011) investigated the role of cognitive style (i.e., an individual’s preferred
problem solving strategy) in 41 teams in a R&D company and showed that teams with
members that have creative and conformist cognitive styles enhanced team radical innovation,
whereas members with attention-to-detail cognitive styles stifled a team’s radical innovative
output. The researchers found that creative team members increase task conflict and hinder
team adherence to standards, which potentially boosts team idea generation. Conformist team
members on the other hand reduce task conflict as well as enhance team adherence to
standards, which may facilitate the innovation implementation process. Therefore, the
inclusion of both creative and conformist team members may ensure greater team equilibrium
in relation to innovation.
Another relevant personal characteristic is regulatory focus (Higgins, 1998).
According to Higgins, people differ in their motivational orientation, in the sense that some
individuals are more motivated towards pursing their ideals, seeking success, and taking risks
(a promotion focus orientation), while others are more motivated to accomplish their duties
and obligations, seek safety and security, and avoid risk-taking (a prevention focus
orientation). Some studies have established a relationship between promotion focus and
creativity (Lanaj, Chang, & Johnson, 2012). Promotion focus is associated with a more global
processing style, relying more on heuristics and a stronger risk taking approach, factors which
are associated with creativity (e.g., Friedman & Forster, 2000, 2001) . Prevention focus, on
the other hand, given its aversion to risk taking and more conservative, perseverant thinking
style, has been proposed to be negatively associated with creativity (e.g., Friedman & Förster,
2000, 2001). However, the attention to detail, focus on duties, and need to avoid failure might
be critical qualities when it comes to implementation of innovation, with the attendant barriers
and difficulties which require both perseverance and attention to detail.
Substantial evidence shows that behavioral preferences of individuals working
together converge over time to reflect a common focus on either prevention or promotion,
thus leading to a collective regulatory focus (Faddegon, Scheepers & Ellemers, 2008; Levine,
Higgins, & Choi, 2000; Sacramento, Fay & West, 2013; Sassenberg & Woltin, 2008). It is
then reasonable to expect that the different processing styles associated with promotion and
prevention focus will translate at the team level into different patterns of interaction which are
fitted to better serve the desired end-states of each foci - success (for promotion) and security
(for prevention). A stronger team promotion focus will be likely to result in a more global,
unstructured exachange of information, resulting in a larger number of ideas being exchanged
and developed, and also in more risky decisions (Florack & Hartmann, 2007). A stronger
prevention focus is more likely to result in a more focused and systematic discussion, in
which all details are examined by team members in an effort to avoid pitfalls, qualities that
are important when taking into account the numerous difficulties that occur over the course of
implementing a new idea. Thus, while we expect individual and team promotion focus to lead
to creativity, we argue that prevention focus might be more instrumental when it comes to the
implementation of ideas.
Turning to peoples’ self concept, people who are confident of their abilities are more
likely to innovate in the workplace. Chen et al. (2013) reported in their study on 95 R&D
teams across 33 Chinese organizations that employee’s perceived confidence in the ability to
proactively carry out work tasks (i.e., role-breadth self-efficacy) is positively related to
individual innovative performance, which in turn facilitates team innovative performance.
Moreover, tolerance of ambiguity and complexity, widely associated with innovation, enables
individuals to avoid the problems of following mental ruts, and increases the chances of
unusual responses and the discovery of novelty. For example, Wu and colleagues (2014)
showed that employees with a high need for cognition (i.e., a tendency to enjoy novel,
complex, and uncertain situations) exhibited increased innovation.
Innovative people also tend to be self-disciplined, with a high degree of initiative and
motivation, and a concern with achieving excellence (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988). They
also tend to be self-directed, enjoying and requiring freedom in their work (Mumford &
Gustafson, 1988). In line with this, a study by Miron and colleagues (2004) showed that
creative employees display the highest levels of innovative performance in that they
consistently take the initiative (i.e., if they have an active and self-starting approach to work).
We propose that such characteristics – self-discipline, initiative, and being self-directed are
not so critical for idea generation but are conducive to the type of behaviours required to push
forward an idea, such as developing a structured plan, persevering in the face of difficulties,
being able to establish alliances and connect to relevant partners. Having team members with
such characteristics will increase the chances of a team being able to implement their ideas.
Another influence on team innovation is the extent to which team members have the
relevant knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to perform well individually as well as to
work effectively in groups. These involve technical skills relevant for task performance (such
as medical skills for a physician in a breast cancer care team) but also team integration skills,
which include conflict resolution skills, collaborative problem-solving skills, and
communication skills to facilitate team functioning (West, 2002). KSAs, we argue, are critical
for both the generation of ideas and implementation. A team can only capitalise on each
members’ different pool of knowledge if team members are able to exchange their competing
views fed by different sets of skills and experiences and successfully engage in conflict
resolution and problem solving. Implementing these ideas again will require the ability to
plan, coordinate, manage conflict and solve problems, which are of course KSAs for team
work (Stevens & Campion, 1994).
Group member diversity
Are groups composed of very different people (e.g., in terms of professional
background, age, organizational tenure) more innovative than those whose members are
similar? Does divergence of views, multiple perspectives, positive disagreement and conflict
increase the innovative performance of teams (Guillaume, Dawson, Otaye, Woods, & West,
Of the different classification systems for diversity (Jackson, 1996; Maznevski, 1994),
most differentiate between task-oriented diversity in attributes that are relevant to the person’s
role or task in the organization (e.g., specialised knowledge), and those that are simply
inherent in the person and ‘relations-oriented’ (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, social status and
personality; Maznevski, 1994).
In a meta-analysis of 29 studies and a total of 3635 individuals, van Dijk and
colleagues (2012) showed that diversity is positively related to innovation but also that this
relationship depends on the type of diversity under investigation. For example, whereas
diversity in education level or functional backgrounds was positively related to innovation,
other types of diversity (e.g., ethnic or gender) were unrelated. Effects of diversity on
innovation may depend on the type of innovative performance that is examined. For example,
whilst Diaz-Garcia et al. (2013) reported a positive relationship between gender diversity and
radical innovation, they did not find the same association when looking at incremental
Diversity in information, experience and skills that leads to more comprehensive and
effective decision-making is the dominant explanation for the positive effects of diversity on
team innovation. However, another explanation for the (still debated) effects of task-oriented
diversity on team innovation is that functional diversity increases levels of external
communication across departmental boundaries as well.
Several other studies report a positive relationship between functional diversity and
team innovation depending on a number of team-related factors (Drach-Zahavy & Somech,
2001; Fay, Borrill, Amir, Haward, & West, 2006; Lovelace, Shapiro, & Weingart, 2001). For
example, whilst Lovelace and colleagues (2001) acknowledged that functional diversity may
lead to task disagreement between team members, the means by which this conflict is
resolved (e.g., collaboratively or contentiously) will determine team innovative success.
Similarly, Drach-Zahavy and Somech (2001) showed that functional diversity increased team
innovation when team interaction processes pertaining to information exchange, learning, or
mutual motivation amongst team members were in place. When team knowledge sharing
decreases under low levels of affect-based trust, Cheung et al. (2016) reported a negative
relationship between functional diversity and team innovation. Fay and colleagues (2006)
reported that team multidisciplinarity only increased the quality of team innovations (but not
their number) where there were positive team processes (e.g., a strong vision, team
interdependence, reflection on work processes, and a safe working climate).
In a similar vein, Gibson and Gibbs (2006) reported that high levels of national (or
cultural) diversity (i.e., encapsulated in different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving
based on differences in national backgrounds) decreased team innovation because such
diversity hinders constructive communication. The authors argue that these effects can be
overcome by creating a psychologically safe communication climate (Gibson & Gibbs, 2006).
The activation of gender faultlines (which occurs when the existence of different gender
categories is made salient to those involved), has also been found to negatively affect team
creativity. The authors explained that activated faultlines cause inter-group communication to
break down and member participation to diminish, thus inhibiting the exchange of knowledge
and experiences (Pearsall, Ellis, & Evans, 2008).
So does diversity predict group innovation? The research evidence suggests that
functional or knowledge diversity is associated with innovation. However, when diversity
begins to threaten the group's safety and integration (e.g., task disagreements, lack of
communication) then creativity and innovation implementation are likely to suffer. Where
diversity reduces group members' clarity about and commitment to group objectives, levels of
participation (interaction, information-sharing and shared influence over decision- making),
task orientation (commitment to quality of task performance), and support for new ideas, then
it is likely that innovation attempts will be resisted.
Another relevant question is whether diversity affects the different stages of the
innovation process via the same mechanisms. The positive effects of diversity on creativity
can be attributed to the existence of a wider pool of knowledge, skills and abilities which
combined with good information elaboration can lead to improved idea generation. For
instance, diversity of perspectives has been found to lead to team creativity via information
elaboration when members engage in perspective taking (Hoever, van Knippenberg, van
Ginkel, & Barkema, 2012). In relation to implementation of innovation, perhaps the most
relevant contribution of diversity is a consequence of the varying pools of contacts each
member brings to the team. Individuals’ networking ability and strong social ties were found
to be critical in the relationship between generating ideas and their implementation (Baer,
2012). If teams are composed for example of individuals from different backgrounds or
different functional areas they may be more likely to have non-overlapping networks and
could thus substantially increase the team’s network and with that the access to key
stakeholders and resources which are critical when teams implement their ideas. Thus,
although diversity might positively affect both aspects of the innovation process, the
pathways to these effects might be different
We now turn to consider how the tenure or age of a work team is likely to affect
In order to encourage innovation should we try to keep work teams together over time or
constantly ensure a change of membership and therefore maintain its diversity? Research on
diversity in teams suggests that longer tenure might be associated with increasing
homogeneity and therefore low levels of innovation (Jackson, 1996). This stance is also
supported by research carried out by Choi and Thompson (2005), who found that membership
change increases group creativity as an important precursor to innovation. However, it is also
conceivable that tenure homogeneity could be positively related to frequency of
communication, social integration within the group, and innovation. This may be because the
longer people work together, the more they create a predictable and therefore safe
psychological environment, which may facilitate innovation (West, 2002).
The resolution of these positions may lie not in issues of tenure, diversity and safety
per se, but in the balance between these factors. It may be that tenure, diversity and
psychosocial safety interact in their influence on innovation. Where long tenure leads to high
safety this will lead to creativity and implementation, all other things being equal, since it will
be safer to take risks and to continually introduce diverse perspectives. Another possibility is
that the longer teams work together the more likely they are to develop and apply ways of
working that enable them to achieve shared objectives, to implement appropriate participation
We would like to thank a reviewer for pointing this out.
strategies, and effective communication and decision making processes, which in turn lead to
innovation (West & Anderson, 1996).
The task a team is required to perform determines to a large extent the level of
innovation a team can implement. High levels of autonomy ceded to the group over the
performance of its work, interdependence in the work of the team members, and task identity
(the team performs a whole task) together will influence the level of innovation. At the same
time the characteristics of group members (innovativeness, ability to work in teams, the
diversity of skills, perspectives and knowledge they bring to the task, and the length of time
for which the members have worked together) will influence the level of innovation. The
reader can consider his or her own team and ponder on the extent to which the task demands
innovation. Is the team composed of people who have a propensity to innovate? And do the
team members embody a diversity of knowledge, skills and perspectives which, when
combined, lead to ideas for new and improved ways of working? Are the team members
skilled at integrating their perspectives, activities and knowledge, thus enabling
interdependent team working? Have they worked together for a long enough period of time
that they are reasonably efficient at decision-making and achieving a shared representation of
their work and ways of working? If so, we would argue that the likelihood is that the team has
the capacity to be highly innovative, but this capacity can be constrained or enabled by the
organization within which the team works in powerful ways. It is to a consideration of the
organizational context for team innovation that we turn to next.
How do organizations enable or inhibit team innovation? In this section, we suggest
that the culture and the climate of the organization powerfully determine whether teams will
attempt to introduce innovation. The demands an organization places on teams to perform will
also affect innovation in a positive and powerful way since innovation usually occurs because
of demands in the environment. Necessity, we shall argue, is indeed the mother of invention.
Organizational culture and climate
Organizations create an ethos or atmosphere within which creativity is either nurtured
and blooms in innovation, or is starved of support. Supportive and challenging environments
are likely to sustain high levels of creativity (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988; West, 2002),
especially those which encourage risk taking and idea generation. Employees frequently have
ideas for improving their workplaces, work functioning, processes, products or services but
where climates are characterized by distrust, lack of communication, personal antipathies,
limited individual autonomy and unclear goals, implementation of these ideas is inhibited
(Gibson & Gibbs, 2006; Hülsheger, Anderson, & Salgado, 2009).
Creative, innovative organizations are those where employees perceive and share an
appealing vision of what the organization is trying to achieve – one therefore that is consistent
with their values (West, 2002). Innovative organizations have vigorous and mostly enjoyable
interactions and debates between employees at all levels about how best to achieve that
vision. Conflicts are seen as opportunities to find creative solutions that meet the needs of all
parties in the organizations rather than as win-lose situations. And people in such
organizations have a high level of autonomy, responsibility, accountability, and power – they
are free to make decisions about what to do, when to do it and who to do it with. Trust,
cooperativeness, warmth and humor are likely to characterize interpersonal and intergroup
interactions (Anderson, Potocnik, & Zhou, 2014). There is strong practical support for
people’s ideas for new and improved products, ways of working or of managing the
Considerable research has been undertaken to examine the impact of indicators of
culture and climate on innovation (e.g., Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996;
Patterson et al., 2005). For instance, Bain and colleagues (2001) showed that a climate for
innovation, which is a work climate characterised by participative safety (i.e., an
interpersonally non-threatening atmosphere with opportunities for participation), support for
innovation, a clear and attainable vision, as well as a shared concern for excellence in task
performance increases team innovative performance. Studying 33 R&D teams, Eisenbeiss,
van Knippenberg, and Boerner (2008) showed that the relationship between individual facets
of a climate for innovation are more complex than previously anticipated. Specifically, the
researchers reported that team support for innovation only increased team innovation in
situations where the team had shared norms for excellence regarding the performance output
each team member strives for (i.e., a shared climate for excellence). The researchers argued
that the existence of a climate for excellence would motivate team members to critically
reflect on the feasibility of their innovative ideas before expressing them to the team, and
would also make them more likely to improve and modify their ideas based on feedback
received from colleagues, which ultimately increases a team’s innovative output (Eisenbeiss
et al., 2008).
Amabile’s componential model of creativity and innovation (Amabile, 1983, 1988)
provides a link between the work environment, individual and team creativity, and
organizational innovation. The organizational work environment is conceptualized as having
three key characteristics: Organizational motivation to innovate describes an organization’s
basic orientation toward innovation, as well as its support for creativity and innovation.
Management practices include the management at all levels of the organization, but most
importantly the level of individual departments and projects. Supervisory encouragement and
work group support are two examples of relevant managerial behavior or practices. Resources
are related to everything that an organization has available to support creativity at work.
Amabile proposes that the higher the concurrent levels of these three aspects of the
organizational environment, the more the innovation in organizations. The central statement
of the theory is that elements of the work environment will impact individual and team
creativity by influencing expertise, task motivation, and creativity skills. The influence of
intrinsic task motivation on creativity is considered essential; even though the environment
may have an influence on each of the three components, the impact on task motivation is
thought to be the most immediate and direct. Furthermore, creativity is seen as a primary
source of organizational innovation.
In a study examining whether and how the work environments of highly creative projects
differed from the work environments of less creative projects, Amabile and colleagues
(Amabile et al., 1996) found that five dimensions consistently differed between high-
creativity and low-creativity projects. These were challenge, organizational encouragement,
work group support, supervisory encouragement, and organizational impediments.
Challenge is regarded as a moderate degree of workload pressure that arises from the
urgent, intellectually challenging problem itself (Amabile et al., 1996; Amabile, 1988). The
authors carefully distinguish challenge from excessive workload pressure, which is supposed
to be negatively related to creativity, and suggest that time pressure may add to the perception
of challenge in the work if it is perceived as a concomitant of an important, urgent project.
This challenge, in turn, may be positively related to intrinsic motivation and creativity.
Organizational encouragement refers to several aspects within the organization. The first
is encouragement of risk taking and idea generation, a valuing of innovation from the highest
to the lowest levels of management. The second refers to a fair and supportive evaluation of
new ideas; the authors underline this by referring to studies that showed that whereas
threatening and highly critical evaluation of new ideas was shown to undermine creativity in
laboratory studies, in field research supportive, informative evaluation can enhance the
intrinsically motivated state that is most conducive to creativity. The third aspect of
organizational encouragement focuses on reward and recognition of creativity; in a series of
studies, Amabile and colleagues showed that reward perceived as a bonus, a confirmation of
one’s competence, or a means of enabling one to do better, more interesting work in the future
can stimulate creativity, whereas the mere engagement in an activity to obtain a reward can be
detrimental towards it (see Amabile et al., 1996). The final aspect refers to the important role
of collaborative idea flow across the organization, participative management, and decision
making, in the stimulation of creativity.
Work group support indicates the encouragement of activity through the particular work
group. The four aspects thought to be relevant for this are team member diversity, mutual
openness to ideas, constructive challenging of ideas, and shared commitment to the project;
whereas the former two may influence creativity through exposing individuals to a greater
variety of unusual ideas, the latter two are thought to increase intrinsic motivation.
Supervisory encouragement stresses the aspects goal clarity, open supervisory
interactions, and perceived supervisory or leader support. Whereas goal clarity might have an
effect on creativity by providing a clearer problem definition, Amabile et al. argue that open
supervisory interactions as well as perceived supervisory support may influence creativity
through preventing people from experiencing fear of negative criticism that can undermine
the intrinsic motivation necessary for creativity.
In reporting the last of the five factors, organizational impediments, Amabile et al. (1996)
refer to a few studies indicating that internal strife, conservatism, and rigid, formal
management structures represent obstacles to creativity. The authors suggest that because
these factors may be perceived as controlling, their likely negative influence on creativity may
evolve from an increase in individual extrinsic motivation (a motivation through external
factors but not the task itself) and a corresponding decrease in the intrinsic motivation
necessary for creativity. However, research on impediments to creativity is in comparison to
research on stimulants of creativity still comparatively limited.
When it comes to understanding what are the characteristics of climates that support
implementation of an innovation, the work of Klein and Sorra (1996) is particularly
insightful. According to the authors, a strong climate for implementation is one that fosters
the use of an innovation by (a) ensuring that employees are skilled in using the new
innovation, (b) provides incentives for innovation use, and (c) removes obstacles to its use.
Thus organizations should support teams in implementing their ideas by ensuring all relevant
organizational members are trained so they can use and benefit from the innovation, they are
rewarded for doing so, and any factors constraining the use of the innovation are removed.
The authors were of course focusing on a situation in which the organization has already
decided to proceed with the implementation of an idea and wants to ensure staff members
adhere to it, so the implementation is succsseful. However the same principles should apply
when aiming to create a climate that encourages teams to move forward and implement their
ideas. Organizations should provide teams with opportunities to address any gaps in
knowledge, should create rewards for teams who seek to implement their ideas, and should try
to remove any obstacles that come in their way (e.g., red tape, lack of resources). Such actions
will signal that the organization not only welcomes new ideas but values and support their
Organisations can also promote creativity and implementation of innovation by investing
in their human resource practices and developing High Performance Work Systems (HPWS).
HPWS refers to a group of separated but related human resource practices designed to
maximise employees’ skills, effort (Takeuchi, Lepak, Wang, & Takeuchi, 2007). Indeed,
recent research on High Performance Work Systems (HPWS) has revealed new pathways for
how organizations can create a climate that promotes both creativity and implementation of
ideas (e.g., Chang, Jia, Takeuchi, & Cai, 2014; Lee, Pak, Kim, & Li, 2016). For instance,
organization branches applying high performance work practices for creativity were found to
have more creative employees and in turn more satisfied customers (which implies that
employees were not only having more ideas but were also implementing them, and thereby
improving customer satisfaction; Martinaityte, Sacramento, & Aryee, 2016). In a sample of
454 organizations Jeong and Shin (2017) found that when companies were going through a
major change, HPWS led to more collective learning, which in turn led to higher creativity.
Thus organizations should invest in job design, reward, selection and tranining initiatives that
facilitate creativity and implementation of ideas.
We argue that external demands on teams (competition with other organizations, time
pressures and challenging targets for examples) impair idea generation but are likely to
stimulate innovation implementation in teams that have effective group processes (West,
2002). Creativity is more likely to occur when team members are happy, feel safe and are free
of pressures, as such factors impair creative cognition (e.g., Claxton, 1997, 1998; Cowen
1952). Supporting this idea, Zhu, Gardner, and Chen (2016) found that while collaborative
team climate had a direct positive effect on creativity, the same was not the case for
competitive climate. On the other hand, such factors, at least up to a certain level, can have
the opposite effect when it comes to moving ideas forward. Research in manufacturing
organizations (West, Patterson, Pillinger, & Nickell, 2000) suggests that the lower the market
share held by manufacturing organizations, the higher the level of product innovation.
Moreover, the extent of environmental uncertainty reported by senior managers in these
organizations (in relation to suppliers, customers, market demands and government
legislation), was a strong predictor of the degree of innovation in organizational systems, e.g.,
in people management practices (see also West & Anderson, 1992). Taken together, these
findings suggest that if the environment of organizations is demanding, these organizations
(or the teams within them) are more likely to innovate in order to reduce the demand or
uncertainty. This is likely also to influence the level of innovation of groups at work. The
effort of initiating change in organizations, with all the attendant resistance, conflicts and
experiences of failure is likely, in most instances, to elicit strong aversive reactions among
group members. The impetus to maintain innovation attempts (in the absence of strong
intrinsic motivation) must therefore be provided by an expectation of high rewards or by the
perception of high demands, threat or uncertainty.
The external context of the group’s work, be it organizational climate, support
systems, market environment, or environmental uncertainty, is likely to have a highly
significant influence both on its creativity and innovation implementation as organizations
innovate at least partly in response to external demands. Research evidence for this
interrelationship is for example provided by Jung and colleagues (2008), who show that the
impact of a CEO’s transformational leadership on firm innovation depends on environmental
factors such as high competition or high uncertainty. In a similar vein, Jansen et al. (2006)
showed that environmental dynamism (i.e., the rate of change and degree of instability of
organizational environments) and competitiveness influence the extent to which innovation
can be translated into financial gains of organizations. The researchers found that whereas
high environmental dynamism and competitiveness increase organizational financial
performance, low levels of both environmental factors lead to decreases in financial gains.
In sum, while external demands are proposed to impair creativity, the relationship
between external demands and innovation implementation is more complex. Extreme
demands or sustained high levels (as may be found in war time or in disaster situations) are
likely to produce paralysis or learned helplessness. However, within the bounds of most work
environments, which are not characterised by extreme demands, levels of external demands
(we propose) will positively predict levels of team innovation implementation.
In conclusion therefore, we suggest that the organizational culture, climate and level
of demands provides a context which determines the level of group innovation both directly
and via their impact on team inputs and team processes. Clearly the culture will influence the
group’s task (the amount of autonomy they are given), the group’s composition (cross
functional teams are more likely in organic organizations), and group processes (team
members are more likely to be supportive of innovation in a culture which recognizes and
rewards ideas for new and improved ways of doing things). We cannot treat work teams as
isolated islands if we wish to understand creativity and innovation at work. The organizational
context plays a powerful part in influencing both the level and type of innovation. But, we
argue below, the most important factors are the interaction and socio-emotional processes that
occur within teams.
Team Processes and Emergent States
The literature has differentiated between team processes, which refer to the nature of
the members’ interactions (e.g., information sharing, conflict management), and emergent
states (e.g., cohesion, psychological safety, collective efficacy, support for innovation), which
describe cognitive, motivational and affective states of teams that are typically dynamic in
nature and vary as a function of the team context, inputs, processes, and outcomes (Marks,
Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001). Team emergent states do not represent team interactions or team
actions and therefore can not lead directly to outcomes, but they can influence (and be
influenced by) team processes that are relevant for innovation, and also exert a boundary
effect in the relationships between processes and both inputs and outcomes (e.g., Fairchild &
Hunter, 2014). Thus, both team processes and team emergent states are important for team
Task characteristics, group diversity and organizational context will all influence team
processes and emergent states affecting the development and redevelopment of shared
objectives, levels of participation, management of conflict, and support for new ideas (West,
2002). These processes and emergent states, if sufficiently integrated (i.e., there are shared
objectives, high levels of participation, constructive, co- operative conflict management, high
support for innovation, and leadership which enables innovation) will foster creativity and
innovation implementation. Moreover, effective group processes will be both sustained by
and increase the level of psychosocial safety in the group.
Developing shared objectives
In the context of group innovation, clarity of team objectives is likely to facilitate
innovation by enabling focused development of new ideas, which can be filtered with greater
precision than if team objectives are unclear. Theoretically, clear objectives will only
facilitate innovation if team members are committed to the goals of the team since strong
goal-commitment will be necessary to maintain group member persistence for implementation
in the face of resistance among other organizational members. Ferreira Peralta and colleagues
(2015) examined the role of goal clarity and commitment in the relationship between
innovation processes and team effectiveness (i.e., operationalised as performance) using two
samples (i.e., 207 call centre teams and 32 sports teams). The researchers found that
innovation processes were more positively related to performance when goal clarity and
commitment in teams is high.
Participation in decision-making
To the extent that information and influence over decision-making are shared within
teams, and there is a high level of interaction amongst team members, the cross fertilisation of
perspectives which can spawn creativity and innovation (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988) is
more likely to occur. More generally, high participation in decision-making means less
resistance to change and therefore greater likelihood of innovations being implemented (West,
2002). Meta-analytically examining 37 studies with an overall sample of 23,146 employees,
Hülsheger and colleagues (2009) revealed a small association between team participative
safety (i.e., a measure of participation in decision making and intragroup safety) and
innovation (r =.15) and advised to interpret this result with some caution. Gajendran and Joshi
(2012) recently reported a positive relationship between member influence on team decisions
and team innovation using data from 40 globally distributed teams. However, the
determinants of member influence on team decisions were characterised by complex
interrelationships, good team member relationship quality with the respective team leader
(i.e., high leader-member exchange) and frequent leader-member communication. This joint
effect in predicting member influence on team decision-making was stronger in teams whose
members were globally dispersed.
Axtell and colleagues’ study (2000) found that participation in decision-making
predicted both suggestion-making and implementation. They proposed that individual
perceptions of group and organizational variables (e.g., participative safety, support for
innovation, management support) would affect implementation while perceptions of job and
individual characteristics (e.g., role breadth self-efficacy, production ownership, problem
solving demand) would predict creativity. They also proposed that participation in decision
making would affect both components. Similarly, we expect this factor to affect both
creativity and implementation because it facilitates the development of creative ideas and
provides the agency to implement them.
Many scholars believe that the management of competing perspectives is fundamental
to the generation of creative ideas and innovation implementation (Anderson et al., 2014;
Mumford & Gustafson, 1988). Such processes are characteristic of task-related conflict (as
opposed to conflicts of relationship and processs conflict; see De Dreu, 1997). They can arise
from a common concern with quality of task performance in relation to shared objectives.
Task conflict includes the appraisal of, and constructive challenges to, the group's
performance. In essence, team members are more committed to performing their work
effectively and excellently than they are either to bland consensus or to personal victory in
conflict with other team members over task performance strategies or decision options.
Dean Tjosvold and colleagues (e.g., Tjosvold & Field, 1983; Tjosvold, 1998) have
presented cogent arguments and strong supportive evidence that such constructive (task-
related) controversy in a co-operative group context improves the quality of decision-making
and creativity (Tjosvold, 1991). Constructive controversy is characterized by full exploration
of opposing opinions and frank analyses of task-related issues. It occurs when decision-
makers believe they are in a co-operative group context, where mutually beneficial goals are
emphasised, rather than in a competitive context; where decision makers feel their personal
competence is confirmed rather than questioned; and where they perceive processes of mutual
influence rather than attempted dominance.
However, a meta-analysis carried out by Hülsheger and colleagues (2009) failed to
establish a linear relationship between task conflict and team innovation. A study by Carsten
de Dreu (2006) may shed light on the theory-contradicting results presented by Hülsheger et
al. De Dreu reports that moderate (but not high or low) levels of task conflict foster team
innovation (i.e., a curvilinear effect). He further showed that moderate levels of task conflict
facilitate team innovation by increasing collaborative problem solving within work teams (De
Another perspective on conflict and innovation comes from minority influence theory.
A number of researchers have shown that minority consistency of arguments over time is
likely to lead to change in majority views in groups (Maass & Clark, 1984; Nemeth & Owens,
1996; Nemeth, 1986). In a study of newly formed postal work teams in the Netherlands, De
Dreu and West found that minority dissent did indeed predict team innovation (as rated by the
teams' supervisors), but only in teams with high levels of participation (De Dreu & West,
2001). It seems that the social processes in the team necessary for minority dissent to
influence the innovation process, are characterized by high levels of team member interaction,
influence over decision-making, and information sharing. This finding has significant
implications for our understanding of minority dissent in groups operating in organizational
contexts. In a study of 32 work teams, De Dreu (2002) established another boundary
condition in the relationship between minority dissent and team innovation, namely
reflexivity (i.e., the tendency to reflect upon the group’s objectives, strategies, and processes,
and adapt them to current or anticipated circumstances). He reported that team are more
innovative and effective where there was high minority dissent in combination with high
levels of team reflexivity.
Overall, therefore, moderate task-related (as distinct from emotional or interpersonal)
conflict and minority dissent in a participative climate will lead to creativity by encouraging
debate (requisite diversity) and to consideration of alternative interpretations of information
available, leading to integrated and innovative solutions.
In light of the evidence above, we argue that constructive controversy and task conflict
will be particularly beneficial when teams are generating ideas. Having a varied set of
competitive views will lead to divergent lines of thought which will call for an in-depth
discussion as team members compare, contrast and combine different possible approaches.
This rich elaboration of information will in turn result in increased creativity (Hoever, van
Knippenberg, van Ginkel, & Barkema, 2012). For idea implementation we argue that it is best
if team members have developed a shared mental model of their task and therefore have less
conflict about the content and process of their work (Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, &
Cannon-Bowers, 2000). This is not to say that any task conflict will be negative at this stage;
task conflict might be very useful when the team encounters problems (e.g., whilst
implementing a creative idea), but we expect that conflict will be less important during idea
Support for Innovation
Innovation is more likely to occur in groups where there is support for innovation, and
innovative attempts are rewarded rather than punished (Amabile, 1988). Support for
innovation is the expectation, approval and practical support of attempts to introduce new and
improved ways of doing things in the work environment (West, 1990). Within groups, new
ideas may be routinely rejected or ignored, or attract verbal and practical support. Such group
processes powerfully shape individual and group behavior and those which support
innovation will encourage team members to introduce innovations (West, 2002). A
longitudinal study of 27 hospital top management teams, found that support for innovation
was the most powerful predictor of team innovation of any of the group processes so far
discussed (Anderson & West, 1998; West & Anderson, 1996). In a comprehensive analysis of
39 studies and 15,604 employees, Hülsheger and colleagues (2009) confirmed the initial
results obtained by West and colleagues by reporting a strong positive relationship between
support for innovation and team innovation (r = .47). A study conducted by Yuan and
Woodman (2010) found that the relationship between perceived organizational support for
innovation and innovative behaviour is explained by increases in expected positive
performance outcomes (i.e., employees believe that their innovative behaviours will bring
performance improvements or efficiency gains to their team). This suggests the existence of
further mechanisms that underlie the effect of support for innovation on innovative
We suggest that support for innovation, although beneficial for creativity, is more
important during the implementation stage. The extent to which teams will be successful
navigating the social and political channels necessary in order to gain support to implement an
idea will be highly dependent on the extent to which the organization promotes and supports
innovation and key stake holders offer support and make available the necessary resources.
Team reflexivity is the extent to which team members collectively reflect upon the
team’s objectives, strategies and processes as well as their wider organizations and
environments, and adapt them accordingly (West, 1996, p. 559). There are three central
elements to the concept of reflexivity -- reflection, planning and action or adaptation.
Reflection consists of attention, awareness, monitoring, and evaluation of the object of
reflection (West, 2002). Planning is one of the potential consequences of the indeterminacy of
reflection, since during this indeterminacy courses of action can be contemplated, intentions
formed, plans developed (in more or less detail) and the potential for carrying them out is
built up. High reflexivity exists when team planning is characterised by greater detail,
inclusiveness of potential problems, hierarchical ordering of plans, and long as well as short
range planning. More detailed implementation intentions or plans are more likely to lead to
innovation implementation (Gollwitzer, 1996). Indeed the work of Gollwitzer and colleagues,
suggests that goal-directed behavior or innovation will be initiated when the team has
articulated implementation intentions. This is because planning creates a conceptual readiness
for, and guides team members’ attention towards, relevant opportunities for action and means
to accomplish the team’s goal. Action refers to goal-directed behaviors relevant to achieving
the desired changes in team objective, strategies, processes, organizations or environments
identified by the team during the stage of reflection.
Reflexivity can relate to team objectives, strategies, internal processes, development
of group psycho-social characteristics, and external relations as well as the external
environment. As a consequence of reflexivity, the team’s reality is continually re-negotiated
during team interaction.
In a study of 200 employees in 100 work teams, Tjosvold and colleagues’s (2004)
results confirmed that team reflexivity does indeed increase team innovation. Furthermore,
their study revealed that setting cooperative (but not competitive or independent) goals
stimulates team reflexivity, which eventually leads to benefits in terms of team innovative
performance. Complementing Tjosvold et al.’s research, Schippers and colleagues (2015)
showed that team reflexivity increases team innovation particularly in situations where teams
are faced with a demanding work environment.
Taking into consideration previous research on group dynamics, we argue that team
reflexivity is a more potent driver of innovation implementation than it is of idea generation.
This is because group discussions with a view to generate creative ideas are likely to be
influenced by groupthink (i.e., a pressure for premature consensus) or social loafing (i.e.,
people exerting less effort on a task when they are in a group compared to working alone),
which can undermine the quantity and quality of ideas generated (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987;
Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991). In addition, dominant or extravert group members will
disproportionately influence the course of a discussion and produce the ideas that may be
ultimately adopted (Jung, Lee, & Karsten, 2012). This is not to say that reflexivity
undermines creativity; however, it may be more useful to reflext upon ideas individually
before coming together as a group to avoid the detrimental influence of certain group
dynamics. Conversely, once a creative idea has taken shape, team reflexivity is likely to play
a key role in innovation implementation. Because the implementation of ideas is a
multistakeholder process, carefully reflecting and agreeing on various implementation
procedures is likely to increase the success rate of creative proposals.
Group Psychosocial Safety
Group psychosocial safety refers to shared understandings, unconscious group
processes, group cognitive style and group emotional tone (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). Examples
include norms, cohesiveness, team mental models (members share an understanding of the
nature of the group’s task, its task processes, how team members are required to work
together and the organizational context) and group affect. In groups with high levels of
psychosocial safety, it is suggested, there will be high creativity. Creative ideas arise out of
individual cognitive processes and, though group members may interact in ways which offer
cognitive stimulation via diversity, creative ideas are produced as a result of individual
cognitions. Evidence suggests that, in general, creative cognitions occur when individuals are
free from pressure, feel safe, and experience relatively positive affect (Claxton, 1997).
Moreover, psychological threats to face or identity are also associated with more rigid
thinking (West, 2002). Time pressure can also increase rigidity of thinking on work-related
tasks such as selection decisions (Kruglanski & Webster, 1996).
Edmondson (1996) found major differences between newly formed intensive care
nursing teams in their management of medication errors. In some groups, members openly
acknowledged and discussed their medication errors (giving too much or too little of a drug,
or administering the wrong drug) and discussed ways to avoid their occurrence. In others,
members kept information about errors to themselves. Learning about the causes of these
errors, as a team, and devising innovations to prevent future errors were only possible in
groups of the former type. Edmondson gives an example of how, in one learning-oriented
team, discussion of a recent error led to innovation in equipment. An intravenous medication
pump was identified as a source of consistent errors and so was replaced by a different type of
pump. She also gives the example of how failure to discuss errors and generate innovations
led to costly failure in the Hubble telescope development project. In particular, Edmondson
(1996, 1999) argues that learning and innovation will only take place where group members
trust other members’ intentions. This manifests in a group level belief that well-intentioned
action will not lead to punishment or rejection by the team, which Edmondson calls “team
safety”: “The term is meant to suggest a realistic, learning oriented attitude about effort, error
and change - not to imply a careless sense of permissiveness, nor an unrelentingly positive
affect. Safety is not the same as comfort; in contrast, it is predicted to facilitate risk.”
(Edmondson, 1999, p.14).
Complementing research carried out by Edmondson, Baer and Frese (2003)
investigated the role of a climate for psychological safety on the ability of a firm to translate
process innovations into increased firm performance. Studying 47 mid-sized German
companies, they founded that a firm’s process innovations only resulted in improved firm
performance (i.e., measured as change over time in return on assets) when there was a strong
climate for psychological safety. Conversely, for companies with low levels of psychological
safety, a firm’s process innovations led to a decrease in firm performance. In this case firms
were not able to reap the performance-related benefits of their process innovations.
We propose that group psychosocial safety exerts a more crucial influence on the
implementation of ideas than their generation. This is because shared group norms or mental
model that are part of psychosocial safety are likely to be instrumental in enabling agreement
on procedural questions concerning the implementation of creative ideas in practice (Adarves-
Yorno, Postmes, & Haslam, 2007). Whilst it is conceivable that group affective tone (as
another contributing factor to psychosocial safety) positively relates to group creativity, the
available research evidence only weakly supports this prediction. Tsai and colleagues (2012)
showed that a positive effect of positive group affective tone on team creativity was only
observed when team trust was low and group negative affective tone was high. Thus, we
suggest that group psychosocial safety is a more relevant influencing factor at the later
innovation implementation stage compared to the creative idea generation stage.
Leaders of groups can seek ideas and support their implementation among members;
leaders may promote only their own ideas; or leaders may resist change and innovation from
any source. Thus, the importance of leadership for individual and team creativity and
implementation is unquestionable (Mainemelis, Kark, & Epitropaki, 2015). We propose that
leadership processes moderate the effects of inputs (team and organizational contexts) upon
team processes and thereby affect the level and quality (magnitude, radicalness and novelty)
of the innovation (see Figure 1). For example, leadership processes in teams have a profound
influence in moderating the relationship between task characteristics and team processes:
effective leadership can enhance the effects of autonomy (by encouraging risk taking and
experimentation in task performance) or diminish their effects (when leadership inhibits the
exploration of the limits of team members’ autonomy).
We also propose that leadership processes in teams will moderate the relationship
between team member characteristics, team processes and innovation. Leadership will either
encourage or block the expression of behaviours and skills supportive of team innovation. A
dominant, directive leader may prevent attempts by team members to bring about change and
steadily reduce their confidence and perseverance in initiating innovation implementation.
Moreover, such a leader might inhibit the expression of team KSAs by repeatedly dominating
decision-making or discussion. A more transformational leadership style will be likely to
enhance the impact of individual characteristics such as confidence, innovativeness and
tolerance of ambiguity upon group processes (such as support for innovation) and thereby
Furthermore, leaders who effectively integrate diverse perspectives and manage
conflict effectively (for example by emphasising shared objectives and vision) are likely to
enhance the influence of diversity upon innovation implementation in teams. Leadership
processes that inhibit the integration of diverse perspectives (for example by exacerbating
conflict between team members) will reduce or nullify the effect of diversity upon group
processes and thereby, team innovation.
Leadership is also proposed to play an important part in buffering team members from
the negative effects of organizational climate upon team innovation. A leader who fights for
the autonomy of his or her team in an organization that is highly controlling will moderate the
effects of organizational culture upon team innovation. Equally, a team leader who dominates
the team, whether or not the organizational context is supportive of innovation and team
autonomy, will be likely to dramatically reduce the positive influence of a supportive
organizational culture upon group processes (such as team member participation in decision
making) and thereby levels of team innovation.
What of transformational and transactional leadership? Transactional leaders focus on
transactions, exchanges, contingent rewards and punishments to change team members’
behaviour (e.g., Yukl, 2012). This style reflects an emphasis on the relationship between task-
oriented leader behavior and effective group member performance. Transformational leaders
influence group members by encouraging them to transform their views of themselves and
their work. They rely on charisma and the ability to conjure inspiring visions of the future
(Northouse, 2013). Such leaders use emotional or ideological appeals to change the behavior
of the group, moving them from self-interest in work values to consideration of the whole
group and organization. Although we might conclude that only the transformational style will
promote innovation, it is likely that both styles will influence creativity and innovation by
moderating the relationship between inputs and processes. Inspiration or reward could lead to
individual propensity to innovate being translated into innovation implementation. Rewards
used by the leader will influence group creativity and innovation where these rewards are
directed towards encouraging individual and group innovation, such as performance related
pay for new product development successes.
Empirical support for a positive association between transactional leadership and
innovation is mixed. Whilst some studies demonstrate a positive effect of transactional
leadership on business unit performance (Howell & Avolio, 1993), a study by Jung (2001)
showed that teams with transformational leaders outperform those teams with a transactional
leader in terms of team creativity. Stronger empirical evidence supports a positive relationship
between transformational leadership and creativity and innovation in teams (Eisenbeiss et al.,
2008; Gumusluoglu & Ilsev, 2009; Jung, Chow, & Wu, 2003; Jung et al., 2008). For example,
transformational leadership was found to promote within-team knowledge sharing and team
innovative performance via the development of team cooperative norms (Jiang & Chen,
2016). Some studies also suggest that the positive effects of transformational leadership are
both more complex and dependent on contextual and environmental factors at work. For
example, Gumusluoglu and Ilsev (2009) reported that transformational leadership exerts a
positive effect on organizational innovation through increases in both employee psychological
empowerment as well as follower creativity, which eventually translates into higher levels of
organizational innovativeness. Similarly, Eisenbeiss and colleagues (2008) found that
transformational leadership is beneficial for team innovation because it increases employee
perceptions of their work environment as supportive of innovation. However, this positive
effect only holds when there is a shared climate of excellence within the team.
In relation to other aspects of leadership behaviour, Rosing and colleagues (2011)
introduced the construct of ambidextrous leadership for team innovation. The authors assert
that the innovation process consists of stages where exploration (i.e., creative idea generation)
and exploitation (i.e., idea implementation) are explicit requirements and propose two
antagonistic sets of leader behaviours (i.e., opening and closing behaviours) to motivate
appropriate follower reactions at each stage. Opening leader behaviours encourage followers
to do things differently, give room for independent thinking and acting, as well as support
attempts to challenge established approaches. Closing behaviours, on the other hand, involve
leaders taking corrective action, setting specific guidelines, or monitoring goal achievement
(Rosing et al., 2011). Past research shows that ambidextrous leadership positively predicts
team innovation over and above the effects of transformational leadership (Zacher & Rosing,
Another leadership concept that utilises the idea of paradox and tension aimed at
fostering follower creative performance is leader emotional inconsistency (Rothman &
Melwani, 2017). Emanating from the burgeoning literature on leadership and affect (for a
review see van Knippenberg & van Kleef, 2016), leader emotional inconsistency involves
leader expressions that fluctuate between different discrete emotions in leader-follower
interactions (Stollberger & Guillaume, 2016). As a construct, leader emotional inconsistency
represents a departure from previous conceptualisations of leader affect in that it allows for
the expression of more than one discrete emotion in leader-follower interactions. As leader
expressions of each discrete emotion may have discernible effects on follower affect,
cognition, and behaviour (van Kleef, Homan, & Cheshin, 2012), leader emotional
inconsistency thus opens up a whole host of discrete emotion combinations along with their
effects on follower work-related outcomes. In a first empirical test, Stollberger and Guillaume
(2016) reported that displayed leader emotional inconsistency between the discrete emotions
happiness and anger increases the creative performance of followers by inspiring them to
engage in the creative process, however, only in case followers are motivated to form a rich
and accurate understanding of situations (i.e., high epistemic motivation followers). Thus,
leaders who alternate between happy and angry displays in their interactions with followers
spark creative performance but only when their followers are motivated to decode and make
sense of such leader nonverbal commucation.
We propose that certain leadership styles and behaviours are more effective for certain
stages in the innovation process. For example, the charisma and inspiration as part of
transformational leadership may be more suited to motivate follower idea generation, whereas
contingent rewards as a facet of transactional leadership is likely to provide followers with the
structure necessary for innovation implementation. Similarly, whereas some forms of
paradoxical leader behaviors appear to be more beneficial for idea generation (e.g., leader
emotional inconsistency; Stollberger & Guillaume, 2016), others may facilitate both idea
generation and implementation (e.g., opening and closing behaviours; Zacher & Rosing,
2015). The reason for these diverging effects may lie in the time scale within which these
leader behaviours are enacted. Whereas inconsistent leader emotional expressions are
theoretically enacted in every leader-follower interaction, opening and closing behaviours as
part of ambidextrous leadership are explicitly targeted and enacted at their corresponding
stages in the innovation process (i.e., idea generation and idea implementation, respectively)
and are thus likely to be displayed further apart in time. Further research is warranted to
confirm or disprove this proposition as well as to further elaborate on the effects of paradox
and tension in leadership with regards to the innovation process.
In sum, leadership processes have a considerable influence in determining whether the
inputs (such as team task, team member characteristics, organizational culture and climate,
and demands on the team) are translated into group processes that support innovation
implementation or smother both creativity and innovation. In this chapter we have proposed
that they play a major role in moderating the relationship between input variables and group
processes, and thereby creativity and innovation implementation.
We have argued that researchers eager to understand group creativity must focus more
on the implementation of ideas rather than their generation in the workplace. It is the
implementation of a good idea that advances our progress as a species not merely the private
creative idea generation process. Too little research effort has been directed at implementation
rather than idea generation. We have also suggested that the task a team performs is a key to
understanding innovation implementation. It is motivating and challenging tasks that lead
teams of innovative people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to innovate. If we are
to encourage team innovation in the workplace we must offer teams tasks that give them
autonomy, challenge and a sense of meaningfulness. But even with innovative people facing a
challenging and motivating task, if the organization’s culture is one of blame, suspicion,
hostility and control, team members’ efforts are unlikely to translate into innovation. It is
organizations whose members share an appealing vision of what the organization is trying to
achieve where vigorous debates how best to achieve that vision are the norm. Trust,
cooperation, altruism, warmth and humor characterize the climate. Innovation is encouraged
in organizations in demanding environments – the IT revolution occurred in highly
competitive, rapidly changing and uncertain market environments.
We have proposed that, in order to understand innovation in work teams, we must also
understand how leadership enables or inhibits the effects of inputs upon team processes in the
team innovation, and therefore leadership is an important topic for future study in this
important area. It is team leaders who play a leading role in buffering the team from the
pernicious effects, or enhancing in the team the nurturing effects, of organizational culture.
Team leaders also can ensure that team member and task characteristics influence group
processes in a way that leads to rather than inhibits innovation. But ultimately, we have
suggested, it is the integrating and social interaction processes in teams that determine
whether they will implement innovation.
In the following, we aim to summarize whether each factor we discussed throughout
this chaper is more likely to foster creativity or innovation implementation. We suggested that
within the team context task characteristics are likely to facilitate both stages in the innovation
process with the exception of autonomy, which may be more relevant for creativity.
Regarding team members characteristics, we suggested that KSAs facilitate both creativity
and innovation implementation, whereas a promotion focus is likely to be more facilitative of
creativity and self-discipline or a prevention focus a more potent driver of innovation
implementation. We argued that diversity benefits both stages of the innovation process,
however, a diversity of perspectives is likely to increase creative idea generation whereas a
broader network due to, for example, team functional diversity, is likely to facilitate
innovation implementation. Moreover, we suggested that group tenure is more facilitative of
innovation implementation, whereas group member change may more readily spark creativity.
Concerning organizational context factors, we argued that cultures and climate are
beneficial for both creativity and innovation implementation, however, different types of
cultures or climates may be more facilitative for different stages of innovation. We further
suggested that external demands, to the extent that they are not extreme in nature, are likely to
foster innovation implementation.
Turning to team process, shared objectives and participation are likely to motivate
both creativity and innovation implementation as different goals can be set for each stage and
employee action is also relevant throughout the innovation process. Task conflict, we argued,
is likely to predominantly facilitate creative idea generation more than their implementation.
We also suggested that support for innovation is likely to be more relevant for innovation
implementation as this stage requires navigating networks and gatekeepers, which is
facilitated by managerial support. Furthermore, we argued that team reflexivity is more
beneficial for innovation implementation because certain dynamics (e.g., group think)
undermine the quality and quantity of ideas generated in team settings. Psychosocial safety,
we suggested, may be more relevant for innovation implementation as shared norms and
mental models are likely to make the implementation of ideas easier.
Lastly, we emphasized that leadership acts as a crucial boundary condition that
influences how team and organizational factors translate in team processes, emergent states,
and ultimately team innovation. In this respect, we argued that certain leader behaviours are
likely to predominantly foster creativity (e.g., transformational leadership, leader emotional
inconsistency, opening leader behaviours), or innovation implementation (e.g., transactional
leadership, closing leader behaviours), respectively.
Throughout this discussion, we have treated innovation as though it was a positive end
in and of itself. There is a final reason to consider how we can best create the conditions for
effective work team innovation implementation. Opportunities to develop and implement
skills in the workplace and to innovate are central to the satisfaction of people at work
(Nicholson & West, 1988), while innovation is vital to the effectiveness of organizations in
highly demanding and competitive environments (Anderson et al., 2014). The creative
challenge for psychologists is to help implement climates and cultures within their own
organizations, and those they advise, so that team innovation and human well-being are
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Figure 1: An input-process-output model of work group innovation.
Note: c= creativity, i= innovation implementation.