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Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
26
www.timreview.ca
Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours
in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
Introduction
Organizational creativity is the creation of a valuable
and useful new product, service, idea, procedure, or
process by individuals working together in a complex
social system (Woodman et al., 1993). Broadly defined,
innovation is the successful application of ideas (Mat-
thews, 2002). Innovation depends on ideas generated
through creativity and the knowledge and research that
make it possible to put ideas to work (Naggar, 2015).
Companies that can develop and implement creative
ideas perform better in changing operating situations,
with CEOs recognizing the value of empowering and
mobilizing the collective brainpower of the workforce
for innovation (IBM, 2010). Further research into creat-
ive processes and their antecedents across different
types of organizations, jobs, and teams is confirmed as
an obvious priority (Gilson & Shalley, 2004).
The study described in this article was framed to gain
insight into these antecedents in work environments. It
features an investigation of the characteristics of work
environments that generate creative behaviours within
one project team in a medium-sized, global, consulting
engineering, project-based organization.
This study contributes new knowledge to research re-
garding work environments that facilitate creative beha-
viours by highlighting the processes used when diverse,
interdisciplinary employees meet in regular design re-
view meetings, which stimulate individual and collect-
ive creative behaviours. These behaviours, further
extended by a technology manager, support the cre-
ation and capture of innovative solutions that also de-
liver commercial value for the company.
We begin by considering extant research regarding
links between creative behaviours and work environ-
ments, before outlining methodology and describing
findings and concluding with practical implications.
Work Environments and Creative Behaviours
Work environments that encourage creative behaviours
have previously been defined in R&D teams (Amabile,
Hadley, & Kramer, 2002) and in the animation and film
Novel and useful ideas and creative behaviours originate in varied work environments, yet the
characteristics of work environments that stimulate and foster such creative behaviours are not
well defined. The aim of this study was to identify the influences that contribute to creative be-
haviours in the work environment of a global project-based professional service organization.
This article is based on an investigation of the work environment of one project team undertak-
ing interdisciplinary work in the construction of a processing plant in a remote location. This
multi-disciplinary team encouraged creative behaviours through regular team meetings, ensur-
ing the presentation of diverse views and commitments to regular interaction and collabora-
tion in co-located environments. In addition, a technology manager dedicated to identifying
potential opportunities for patenting and commercialization further extended the creative be-
haviours of the team by focusing on the best solution for each situation. The study contributes
new knowledge to research regarding work environments that facilitate creative behaviours.
We believe that ideas only become great
when they are challenged and tested.
Ed Catmull
President of Pixar Animation Studios
In Creativity, Inc.
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
industry (Catmull, 2008), but less attention has been
given to other work environments. The research ques-
tion we are addressing is: What are the characteristics
of work environments that encourage creative beha-
viours in a project-based organization? A review of liter-
ature across work environments and creative
behaviours follows.
Creative behaviours appear to result from the complex
interactions between the person and situation (Am-
abile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996; Woodman
et al., 1993). They emerge in response to challenging
work, openness to new ideas, and an experimental
mindset (Woodman et al., 1993). Creative behaviours
focus on the initial phases of the innovation process,
that is the idea generation, exploration stage to the ex-
clusion of the implementation stages (Kanter, 1988;
Shalley & Gilson, 2004). Examples of creative beha-
viours include searching out new technologies and sug-
gesting new ways to achieve objectives (West, 2002).
Results of creative behaviours could range from sugges-
tions for incremental adaptations in procedures, to rad-
ical and major breakthroughs in the development of
new products (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988).
Major contributions to understanding work environ-
ments have come from Amabile and colleagues (1996)
through their work on the KEYS model for measuring
environmental components that work as either stimu-
lants or obstacles to creative behaviours. An interac-
tional perspective of the complex social systems
influencing organizations was developed by Woodman,
Sawyer, and Griffin (1993). Team climate factors influ-
encing team behaviours were investigated by Anderson
and West (1998) and Isaksen and Ekvall (2010), while
Dul and Ceylan (2011) considered influences on a work
environment to have personal, social-organizational
and physical factors. Recent research emphasizes the
importance of synthesizing divergent perspectives in
the idea-generation process focusing on the nature of
the team work environment (Hackman, 2011).
Previous research indicates several characteristics and
mechanisms that influence creative behaviours in
team-based work environments, including i) the beha-
viour of the manager (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010), ii)
design of work (Shalley, 2004), iii) provision of time for
creativity (Dul & Ceylan, 2011), iv) attitude to risk (Du-
laimi et al., 2002; Hartmann, 2006), v) existence of posit-
ive versus negative tensions (Isaksen et al., 2001;
Shalley & Gilson, 2004), vi) effective management of dif-
ferent types of conflict (Jehn, 1995; Pelled, 1996), vii) ex-
tent of collaboration within and across teams (Taylor &
Greve, 2006; Thompson & Choi, 2005), vii) level of parti-
cipation in decision making (Harvey & Kou, 2013), ix)
existence of an effective process for creativity manage-
ment (Smith et al., 2008), and x) positive social relation-
ships (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Hennessey &
Amabile, 2010), among others. Many factors appear to
be operating together in a cumulative and complex
manner within the work environment. An understand-
ing of the nature and characteristics of these factors in-
vites further research, and a project-based organization
provides a new context (Stanley et al., 2014).
The nature of work environments has previously been
investigated through a variety of methods. These in-
clude semi-structured interviews using the critical in-
cident technique to explore best and worst team
environments (Amabile et al., 2002), examination of
daily diaries (Amabile et al., 2004), ethnographic studies
(Sutton & Hargadon, 1996), and work environment
questionnaires (Amabile et al., 1995). This study em-
ployed qualitative data collection processes within a
single case study, as described in the following section.
Methodology
Investigation of the generation of creative behaviours
was undertaken using qualitative research within a case
study. A case study is the strategy of choice when the fo-
cus is on understanding the dynamics present within
single settings, and when existing theory seems inad-
equate (Eisenhardt, 1989). Internet research was used
to identify an organization with a commitment to
innovation and a history of commercial success
through innovation for this study.
The team discussed in this article, (renamed "Team
Delta" to maintain confidentiality), was the manage-
ment team within a new project, and employed some
thirty staff. Management team members were highly ex-
perienced engineers. Half had more than 10 years’ ex-
perience with the company and several members
possessed advanced academic qualifications. Team
Delta was working on the delivery of a large and highly
specialized plant in the Middle East in a joint venture,
using technology patented by the organization. The
project required teams with diverse expertise and skills
in areas of design, mechanical, structural, and electrical
engineering, as well as piping, scheduling, and project
management. The discipline expert managers from
each of these specialist teams, known as "leads", were
among the managers interviewed for this study.
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
Eight of the ten members of the management team
were interviewed face-to-face in semi-structured inter-
views for the study and were present when observa-
tions of meetings were undertaken. Eight team
members interviewed represented seven nationalities;
seven were male and one was female; and they repres-
ented diverse skillsets and ethnic origins. Observations
were made in two of the weekly project status meet-
ings. No observations were undertaken of the design
review meetings. Data collection in this team occurred
over a three-month period and data were thematically
analyzed and coded for categorization using the qualit-
ative data analysis program software NVivo.
Findings
Work was undertaken within a staged project manage-
ment framework with key milestones. Within a project-
based organization, agreements with key stakeholders
largely define the scope of work, the project deliver-
ables, and project outcomes. The leads then estab-
lished planning and procedures for implementation
with their respective teams, working closely with other
teams through the design review meetings for all inter-
disciplinary-related impacts. Frequent design review
meetings provided a forum for discussing and agree-
ing on all design-related matters and weekly project
status meetings reviewed achievements against the
project plan. A dedicated technology manager
provided technical process expertise and ensured a
specific focus on identification of patent-creation op-
portunities. The team was based in two locations for
the duration of the three-year project with regular visu-
al electronic communication between sites during
team meetings.
Findings regarding creative behaviours and the work
environment related to the nature of the work itself,
manager behaviours, team processes, and the physical
work environment. Challenges arising in the project
were related both to the nature of the work and to rela-
tionships between team members. From a task per-
spective, the nature of work undertaken was
multifaceted, requiring significant interdisciplinary in-
tegration and collaboration. From a relationship per-
spective, managing a large team in a joint venture with
a competitor added complexity in terms of confidenti-
ality and the generation and protection of intellectual
property. This team had a clear focus on identifying
and formalizing innovations through patents to
achieve commercial organizational benefits.
Nature of work
The characteristics found to most consistently contrib-
ute to creative behaviours throughout the build in-
cluded the presence of a challenging problem or task.
For example, challenges could arise because of the
space limitations at the plant site or from the need for
careful integration between the disciplines while ensur-
ing compliance with scope and safety standards. Team
members reported that many solutions to problems or
current challenges emerged when they were jointly in-
vestigating problems in regular design review meetings
or reporting on project completion activities in the pro-
ject status meetings. However, the design review meet-
ing was the principal forum for exploring and agreeing
on all design-related aspects of the build:
“Well, the new ideas come from design reviews. I
have a minimum of three design reviews at the moment.
As we get busier, I’ll be having five, six, seven, eight
design reviews. This is around the model, talking about
different aspects. You have multi-disciplinary teams and
we talk about specifically drilling down to problems:
How can we operate this? What’s he doing? Why is he do-
ing it? Can we do it any better? Is there another product
which we can use which is better?” (Lead 1)
The team used both formal and informal processes for
responding to challenges, collaborating, and getting the
work done. Collaboration occurred in multiple settings,
including informal discussions in the workplace and
specifically in meetings such as the team’s design re-
view meeting. Some of the creative behaviours inherent
in the idea generating and shaping process are illus-
trated in Figure 1.
New ideas were particularly welcomed in the design re-
view meetings during the early stages of the project
when there was a greater capacity to explore new ap-
proaches, test them out, and implement workable solu-
tions. As the project progressed, the nature of work
became more tightly defined, with less possibility for ex-
ploring new approaches. The frequency of design re-
view meetings compared to the weekly status meetings
may have been related to the early stage of the project
and the importance of idea generation, testing, and re-
finement.
The staged project management framework, with flexib-
ility for exploration and refinement of ideas at design
review meetings and the constraints of key milestones,
encouraged rich discussion and enforced debate and
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
agreement between key stakeholders. The idea manage-
ment process starts with ideas and suggestions in the
"stimulate" phase. Ideas are floated, discussed, de-
bated, and evaluated in the "shape and nurture" phase
before a final decision is made at the point of "capture".
At the beginning of the project, there is greater latitude
for all build options. However, as decisions are made,
future decisions become constrained by previous de-
cisions. The idea management process becomes more
focused as the project develops, with the milestone re-
views putting pressure on all team members to come to
agreement on all design-related aspects that need to be
finished by these points. The development of ideas is
clearly an iterative process that aligns with models for
incorporating learning in project teams (Davidson &
Rowe, 2009). The idea-shaping process is mapped in
Figure 2.
Relationships, roles, and behaviours
Team Delta demonstrated mixed levels of collegiality
and cohesiveness. Furthermore, a shared sense of pro-
fessionalism and of valuing working on this project ap-
peared to help to move the project along. Decisions
where specific disciplines had expertise and a stake in
the outcomes could be a source of friction. Behaviours
that contributed to confrontations were sometimes
seen as negative by team members, although it was re-
cognized that conflict can facilitate deeper evaluation
of alternatives, experimentation and better decision-
making processes. This finding confirmed reports in ex-
tant literature (Isaksen et al., 2001; Jehn, 1995; Pelled,
1996; Shalley & Gilson, 2004). Indeed, to some extent,
disagreement was able to drive higher levels of creativ-
ity as team members sought to prove or disprove their
own or other team members’ technical proposals, lead-
ing to productive experimentation and evaluation.
The idea-generation process was influenced by how
employees felt about engaging in debate, as well as
time constraints. Team members recognized that, for a
change of approach to be accepted, getting the "buy-
in" of other senior staff and particularly of the techno-
Figure 1. Creative behaviours and idea development process
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
logy manager, whose role is key in the innovation iden-
tification and formalization process, was necessary. In
addition to acting as an expert on process, this manager
actively looked for opportunities to commercialize
knowledge throughout the project and was described
as being very forceful in the pursuit of new knowledge:
“…Sometimes [the technology manager] comes
with the ideas that he wants…. but he doesn’t know ex-
actly how to do it. So, we have to come up with the way
to do it. And sometimes he’s pushing us back. So we say:
It can’t be done. He says: No, think about it. Think about
how it can be done. And then eventually: Oh, yes. Maybe
we can do this. So he’s pushing, pushing, pushing…”
(Lead 2)
Conclusions
Creative behaviours apparent in Team Delta included
the generation of ideas to approach different problems,
challenging assumptions based on past experience,
seeking new perspectives from team members, rigor-
ous discussion, evaluating of alternatives, disagree-
ment, collaboration, and experimentation. Many
characteristics that influence creative behaviours found
in this study confirm previous research. Examples in-
clude the richness of ideas that emerge from cross-func-
tional teams and the use of multi-disciplinary team
meetings to focus on exploration of ideas, discussion,
debate, and agreement. Findings are particularly relev-
ant for project-based organizations seeking to achieve
project management objectives of quality work that is
on time, on schedule, and within budget. In addition,
this team was seeking innovative approaches and out-
comes that could be patented. Findings also highlight
the value of structured approaches to managing discus-
sions and decision-making processes. Distinct pro-
cesses used in the design review meetings, where many
of the creative behaviours were noted, and milestone
reviews had different but complementary objectives re-
lated to idea management and achievement tracking.
The role of a technology manager with a dedicated fo-
cus on the identification and commercialization of new
knowledge was an initiative that appeared to demand
new ways of working from the team members. Challen-
ging team assumptions and including dissenting opin-
ions can generate energy, which fosters richer
discussions, better quality decisions, and an increased
capacity to identify unique knowledge that adds value
and can possibly be patented.
Practical implications from this research for project
managers include the identification of local work pro-
cesses such as interdisciplinary team meetings for de-
bating and agreeing on all aspects of the build; use of a
dedicated role to spot innovation potential opportunit-
ies; valuing and management of disagreement/contrary
views as a stimulant to creative behaviours such as eval-
uation of ideas and experimentation; and norms of es-
Figure 2. Idea development and shaping process in project management
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
About the Authors
Tracy Stanley is currently completing her doctoral
thesis at the Queensland University of Technology
(QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, where she investigated
how the characteristics of team work environments
influence creative behaviours and employee engage-
ment in a global project-based organization. The re-
search was undertaken across five teams providing a
range of finance, marketing, and engineering ser-
vices. Tracy has twenty years of international experi-
ence in human resources and change management
in Asia and Europe across industries including travel
technology, government, financial services, educa-
tion, and health. Her qualifications include an MBA
from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and an
MBus (Research) from QUT.
Judy Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the Queens-
land University of Technology (QUT) Business
School, in Brisbane, Australia, where she teaches
both MBAs and senior executives on the topics of in-
novation management, facilitates problem framing
and problem solving in complex environments, and
uses design thinking to develop and execute new pos-
sibilities. Her enthusiasm for the importance of in-
novation management can be traced to her research
into innovation systems in Australia, in public sector
research and development, and in the management
of change. For the last six years, Judy has been an act-
ive researcher and facilitator in the development and
application of design mindsets and methods, recog-
nizing that the frameworks, tools, and mindsets of de-
signers can be used to help managers to problem
solve and innovate in their businesses and develop
new business models. Judy has published articles in a
wide range of international journals, including the
Journal of Business Research, International Journal of
Technology Management, Innovation: Management,
Policy and Practice, and Design Management Journal.
Paul Davidson is an Associate Professor at the
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Busi-
ness School in Brisbane, Australia. He is a manage-
ment specialist with over 25 years university teaching
experience and 100 academic publications including
two major textbooks in management. He has studied
and taught at several universities, and in between
academic appointments, he has been CEO of a com-
pany with 650 employees. At QUT since 1991, he has
developed and delivered courses for high-profile cor-
porate organizations in addition to extensive gradu-
ate teaching. Paul has received a number of awards
for his teaching and academic publishing. He is a
former President (2000–2005) of the Australian Hu-
man Resource Institute (Queensland). In academic
administration, he served the Brisbane Graduate
School of Business as Subject Area Coordinator for
Management, HRM, and Organisational Behaviour,
and managed the school’s program for Defence Force
students. From 2005 to 2012, he was Deputy Director
of the QUT Project Management Academy, a joint ini-
tiative of the Science and Engineering faculty and the
QUT Business School. He now leads the MBus(HRM)
program. His research interests include the develop-
ment of management competencies, knowledge man-
agement, and project management, as well as
international human resource management.
tablishing team cultures with clear expectations of
teamwork. The systematic stimulation, testing, and re-
finement of ideas through design review meetings and
weekly progress meetings, with collaboration, collegi-
ality, and well-managed contestation all contributed
to a work environment supportive of creative beha-
viours. This team illustrates the power of learning with-
in knowledge-intensive firms (Starbuck, 1992) where
the knowledge, effort, and abilities of diverse perspect-
ives are leveraged (Eisenhardt, 1990).
Acknowledgements
An earlier version of this article was presented at the
2015 ISPIM Innovation Summit in Brisbane, Australia,
December 6–9, 2015. ISPIM (
ispim.org
) – the Internation-
al Society for Professional Innovation Management
is a network of researchers, industrialists, consultants,
and public bodies who share an interest in innovation
management.
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
32
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
Technology Innovation Management Review April 2016 (Volume 6, Issue 4)
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Citation: Stanley, T., Matthews, J., & Davidson, P. 2016.
Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a
Project-Based Organization Team. Technology
Innovation Management Review, 6(4): 26–33.
http://timreview.ca/article/979
Keywords: creative behaviours, work environments,
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Insights from Stimulating Creative Behaviours in a Project-Based Organization Team
Tracy Stanley, Judy Matthews, and Paul Davidson
... Specifically, we examined the disciplinarity diversity of the cited journals [76,73]. We selected this measure based on the premise that groups working in an interdisciplinary way bring together diverse knowledge [2,74,75], which will be reflected in the diversity of the literature cited. To consider the inter-or trans-disciplinary nature of the outputs from a group rather than just their productivity, we also examined the degree to which the outputs appear in journals in a diversity of disciplines [49,76]. ...
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... A self-managed service climate is considered an important element to drive an organizations' long-term success. Research suggests that such growth is possible by fostering an environment whereby employee creativity, variety, dedication and work facilitation are stimulated and supported (Lawler, 1986;Lockwood, 2007;Stanley et al., 2016). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that empowered employees in a self-managed service climate are more likely to increase job performance through creative and highly innovative problem-solving capability (Chamberlin et al., 2018). ...
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... Aphoristically, innovation is a forest of invisible trees: we see the results of innovations around us, but creativities often stay hidden; we lionize the successful innovator, but do not see the community supporting and enabling our genius idol. Hence, to understand the origins of innovation, we need the ability to observe and understand the activities of creative communities and the ideation process (Cohendet & Simon, 2015), implying that we need to focus on creativity -not as an abstract concept, but on a very practical level: by studying the everyday activities and interactions of creative individuals and communities (e.g., Ellström, 2010;Stanley et al., 2016), in practice, as they unfold. ...
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