Team working offers a powerful and ubiquitous strategy for managing organizational
change, and team innovation is often the manifestation of teams’ efforts to cope success-
fully with the changes in their work environments. Developing team innovation will
enhance an organization’s ability to redirect and focus resources effectively, appropriately
and more quickly than its competitors, because it enables all members of the organization
to respond to the demands for change, and to make appropriate changes at a local level.
In order to manage and implement change we therefore need to understand how
to develop innovative teams. In this chapter, we review relevant research and present
twelve principles that theorists and practitioners can use as guides for understanding
and promoting innovation in teams.
Innovation can be defined as ‘… the intentional introduction and application
within a job, work team or organization of ideas, processes, products or procedures
which are new to that job, work team or organization and which are designed to ben-
efit the job, the work team or the organization.’ (West and Farr, 1990, p. 9). Innovation
is a two-component non-linear process, encompassing both creativity and innovation
implementation. At the outset of the process, creativity dominates, to be superseded
later by innovation implementation processes.
Innovation represents a particular category of change – it is intentional, designed
to benefit, and new to the unit of adoption. If a change incorporates these three
elements, according to this definition, it is innovation.
A framework for research on team innovation
In this chapter we describe research which examines the relationships between aspects
of the team task (intrinsically and extrinsically motivating task characteristics); team
composition (personality of team members, skill and diversity); organizational context
(rewards, learning and development practices, climate); team processes (including
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norms for innovation, leadership, reflexivity, inter-group relations, conflict and
dissent) and the likely effectiveness of team innovation.
1 Intrinsically motivating
2 High level of extrinsic demands
3 Selection of innovative people
4 Diversity in skills and demography
The organizational context
5 Rewards for innovation
6 A learning and development climate
7 A climate for innovation
8 Norms for innovation
10 Leadership supportive for innovation
11 Conflict and dissent
12 Bridging across teams
1 Ensure the team task is intrinsically motivating
The task a group performs is a fundamental influence on the team, defining its composi-
tion, structure, processes and functioning. A lifeboat rescue team will be very different on
all these dimensions from a pharmaceuticals research and development (R & D) team.
The content of tasks also motivates team members to innovate. For example, Oldham and
Cummings (1996) found that the five core job characteristics – skill variety and challenge,
task identity, task significance, task feedback, and autonomy (Hackman and Oldham,
1980), predicted individual innovation at work. Skill variety refers to the degree to which
a job requires different activities in order for the work to be carried out and the degree to
which the range of skills and talents of the person working within the role is used. Task
identity is the degree to which the job represents a whole piece of work. It is not simply
adding a rubber band to the packaging of a product, but being involved in the manufac-
ture of the product throughout the process, or at least in a meaningful part of the process.
Task significance is the impact of task completion upon other people within the organi-
zation or in the world at large. Monitoring the effectiveness of an organization’s debt col-
lection is less significant than addressing the well-being of elderly people in rural settings,
and may therefore evoke less innovation. When people receive feedback on their perfor-
mance they are more likely to become aware of ‘performance gaps’. Consequently they
are more attuned to the need to initiate new ways of working in order to fill the gaps. Of
course this also implies that they have clear job objectives. Finally, autonomy refers to the
freedom, independence and discretion of employees in how they perform the task –
determining how to do their work and when to do it.
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Gulowsen (1972) suggests the degree of autonomy of the work group can be
assessed in relation to group influence over:
•the formulation of goals – what and how much it is expected to produce
•where to work and number of hours (when to work overtime and when to leave)
•choice about further activities beyond the given task
•selection of production methods
•internal distribution of task responsibilities within the group
•membership of the group (who and how many people will work in the group)
•leadership – whether there will be a leader and who will be the leader and how
to carry out individual tasks.
To encourage innovation in teams we could therefore ensure they have a whole task which:
requires a broad range of appropriate high level skills; requires members to work interdepen-
dently to perform the task; is perceived by team members as significant; and allows team
members to have autonomy in deciding the means to achieve their task goals and accurate
and timely feedback on team performance.
2 Ensure a high level of extrinsic demands
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.
People, groups and organizations will innovate partly in response to external
demands. But such demands can inhibit creativity. Several studies suggest that, in
general, creative cognition occurs when individuals feel free from pressure, safe, and
experience relatively positive affect (Claxton, 1997, 1998). For example, using the
Luchins Water jars problems, Rokeach (1950) demonstrated how time pressures
inhibit creative problem-solving. Moreover, psychological threats to face or identity
are associated with rigid thinking (Cowen, 1952). Time pressure can also increase
rigidity of thinking on work-related tasks such as selection decisions (Kruglansky and
Freund, 1983). Wright (1954) asked people to respond to Rorschach inkblots tests;
half were hospital patients awaiting an operation and half were ‘controls’. The former
gave more stereotyped responses, and were less fluent and creative in completing sim-
iles (e.g. ‘as interesting as…’), indicating the effects of stress or threat upon their
capacity to generate creative responses.
In contrast, among individual health workers we have found in a number of stud-
ies that high work demands are significant predictors of individual innovation (Bunce
and West, 1995; Bunce and West, 1996; West, 1989). Indeed, studies of work role tran-
sitions show that changing role objectives, strategies or relationships is a common
response to the demands of new work environments (West, 1987). Of course, excessive
work demands can have detrimental effects also on stress levels, absenteeism and
turnover. But the point here is that individuals innovate at least partly in response to
high levels of demand. Borrill, et al. (2000a) explored innovation in 100 UK primary
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health care teams. The external demands of the health care environment were assessed
using a UK government index of health and illness for each local area (the Jarman
Index). Perceived levels of participation by team members were measured using the
Team Climate Inventory (Anderson and West, 1998). Where levels of participation in
the team were high, team innovation was also high, but only in environments char-
acterised by high levels of ill health, with associated strong external demands on the
health care professionals. Our research in manufacturing organizations and in hospi-
tals suggests that external demands have a significant impact also upon organizational
innovation (and therefore will likely have an impact upon group innovation). A lon-
gitudinal study of 81 manufacturing organizations showed that the lower the market
share of the companies in relation to their primary products, the higher the level of
companies’ product and technological innovation. It seems that the threat of being a
small player in a competitive situation spurs innovation. Moreover, the extent of envi-
ronmental uncertainty reported by senior managers in these organizations (in relation
to suppliers, customers, market demands and government legislation), was a signifi-
cant predictor of the degree of innovation in organizational systems, i.e., in work orga-
nization and people management practices (West and Patterson et al., 1998). Taken
together, these findings suggest that if the environment of teams and organizations is
demanding and uncertain, it is likely that they will innovate in order to reduce the
uncertainty and level of demand.
It is suggested therefore that external demands will inhibit creativity which occurs in
the earlier stages of the innovation process, but that they will facilitate innovation (via
innovation implementation) at later stages. Creativity requires an undemanding envi-
ronment, while implementation requires precisely the opposite. Innovation implemen-
tation involves changing the status quo, which implies resistance, conflict and a
requirement for sustained effort. A team that attempts to implement innovation is
likely to encounter resistance and conflict among others in the organization, and
therefore sustained effort is required to overcome these disincentives to innovate. But
effort itself is aversive – like most species, we strive to achieve our goals while expend-
ing the minimum effort necessary. The effort required to innovate can be motivated,
at least partly, by external demands. External demands often take the form of uncer-
tainty (which can be experienced as potentially threatening). There is a strong rela-
tionship between environmental uncertainty and more organic structures in
organizations, which themselves facilitate innovation. The price of crude oil is a con-
stant uncertainty in petroleum refining and retailing organizations, and this prompts
continuous innovation in retail operations to win customer loyalty. Another form of
external demand is time constraints imposed by the organization or environment.
Where customers demand ever-shorter lead times (the time from placing an order to
its delivery), manufacturers or suppliers of services must innovate in their work
processes in order to satisfy their customers’ demands. Competition is clearly a form of
demand which economists have long identified as a force for innovation. The severity
or challenge of the environment is also an important influence. For example, two
health care teams may perform exactly the same diagnostic, treatment and preventive
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health care functions, but the team operating in a deprived inner city environment
faces far greater demands than that in a well-to-do suburban area.
What is intuitively apparent is that the relationship between external demands and
innovation implementation cannot be linear. Extreme demands or sustained high lev-
els are likely to produce paralysis or learned helplessness. When individuals are con-
fronted by sustained demands that they cannot meet, they are likely to respond with
apathy or learned helplessness (Maier and Seligman, 1976). So either very low or very
high levels of demands will be associated with relatively low levels of innovation
implementation – an inverted U relationship.
Create conditions within which teams are exposed to high but not excessive levels of
3 Select a team of innovative people
To build an innovative team, we must ensure that members are inclined towards inno-
vation. Researchers examining the relationships between team members’ ‘Big Five’
personality characteristics and innovation have found teams made up of individuals
with high levels of ‘openness’ display high levels of innovation (whilst the other four
characteristics: conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism do not
predict innovation) (Barrick et al., 1998).
More specifically there is some evidence that innovative team members are both
creative and good at implementing innovation. They are people who have a prefer-
ence for thinking in novel ways; who think globally instead of locally (distinguishing
the wood from the trees). They have appropriate intellectual abilities, including syn-
thetic abilities (to see problems in new ways and escape the bounds of conventional
thinking); analytic abilities to recognize which ideas are worth pursuing; and the prac-
tical contextual abilities to persuade others of the value of their ideas (Sternberg and
Lubart, 1996). To be innovative we also require sufficient knowledge of the field to be
able to move it forward, while not being so conceptually trapped in it that we are
unable to conceive of alternative courses (Mumford and Gustafson, 1988). People who
are confident of their abilities are more likely to innovate in the workplace. In a study
of role innovation among more than 2000 UK managers, Nicholson and West (1988)
found that confidence and motivation to develop knowledge and skills predicted
innovation following job change.
Innovative people also tend to be self-disciplined, with a high degree of drive and moti-
vation, and a concern with achieving excellence (Mumford and Gustafson, 1988). This per-
severance against social pressures presumably reduces the dangers of premature
abandonment. Innovative people have a high need for freedom, control and discretion in
the workplace and appear to find bureaucratic limitations or the exercise of control by
managers frustrating (Barron and Harrington, 1981; West, 1987, West and Rushton, 1989).
Include team members who have the personality trait of openness, who think in novel and
non-conventional ways, who are persuasive, knowledgeable about their field, confident, with
high tolerance for ambiguity, and who are self-disciplined and persistent.
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4 Select people with diverse skills and backgrounds
One can differentiate diversity in attributes that are relevant to the person’s role or
task in the organization (e.g. organizational position and specialized knowledge), and
differences that are inherent in the person (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social status and
personality) (Maznevski, 1994). Jackson (1992) believes that the effects of diversity on
team performance are complex: task-related and relations-oriented diversity have dif-
ferent effects that depend also on the team task. For tasks requiring creativity and a
high quality of decision-making, the available evidence supports the conclusion that
task diversity is associated with better quality team decision-making (Jackson, 1996).
The relationship between group diversity and group innovation has interested
many scholars (O’Reilly and Williams, 1998). One significant study of innovation in
teams is a UNESCO sponsored international effort to determine the factors influenc-
ing the scientific performance of 1222 research teams (Andrews, 1979; see also Payne,
1990). Diversity was assessed in six areas: projects; interdisciplinary orientations; spe-
cialities; funding resources; R & D activities; and professional functions. Overall, diver-
sity accounted for 10% of the variance in scientific recognition, R & D effectiveness,
and number of publications, suggesting that diversity does influence team innovation.
One explanation for these findings is that creativity and innovation require diver-
sity of knowledge, professional orientation or disciplinary background because the
integration of diverse perspectives creates the potential for combinations of ideas from
different domains. For example, having doctors, nurses, counsellors, social workers,
and physiotherapists in primary health care teams is associated with high levels of
innovation in patient care (Borrill et al., 2000b). If people who work together in teams
have different professional training, skills, experiences, and orientations, they will
bring usefully differing perspectives to the group. Such a divergence of views will create
multiple perspectives, disagreement and conflict. If informational conflict is processed in
the interests of effective decision-making and task performance rather than on the basis
of motivation to win or prevail, this generates improved performance and more innova-
tive actions will be the result (De Dreu, 1997; Hoffman and Maier, 1961; Pearce and
Ravlin, 1987; Porac and Howard, 1990; Tjosvold, 1985, 1991, 1998). But diversity also
demands extra efforts at integration since diversity creates the potential for conflict as
much as for creativity (De Dreu, 1997; Pelled et al., 1999).
Are teams which are composed of very different people (gender, culture, age, orga-
nizational tenure) more innovative than those whose members are similar? There is
some evidence that heterogeneity in both relations-oriented and task-oriented
domains is associated with group innovation, including heterogeneity in personality
(Hoffman and Maier, 1961), leadership abilities (Ghiselli and Lodahl, 1958), attitudes
(Willems and Clark, 1971), gender, (Wood, 1987), and education (Smith et al., 1994).
Empirical research on the effects of demographic diversity on work team outcomes
has provided mixed results (Milliken and Martins, 1996; Webber and Donahue, 2001;
Jehn et al., 1999). ‘Sometimes the effect of diversity seems positive, at other times neg-
ative, and in other situations, there seems to be no effect at all’ (Shaw and Barret-
Power, 1998: 1307). The relationship between demographic diversity and innovation
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may therefore be curvilinear (see also West, 2002). One study to test this possibility
showed a curvilinear relationship between age, gender and tenure diversity and team
innovation, and this was usually mediated by the task focus of the team. If teams were
tightly focused on the task then moderate levels of demographic diversity seemed to
promote innovation. Very high or low levels of demographic diversity were associated
with low levels of innovation (Gonzalez-Roma et al., 2002).
Select team members who have task relevant skills, a diverse a range of skills and profes-
sional backgrounds and ensure the team is tightly focused on getting the work done.
5 Provide organizational rewards for innovation
The organizational context of team work has a significant effect on the team’s innova-
tion (Guzzo, 1996; Hackman, 1990). Organizational cultures that resist innovation will
of course reduce the likelihood that teams will innovate. One of the most tangible
marks of organizational support for innovation is whether employees’ attempts to
introduce new and improved ways of doing things are rewarded. While some theories
of creativity and flow suggest that creative work is primarily sustained by intrinsic moti-
vation (Amabile, 1983; 1988), emerging research evidence suggests that rewards can
complement intrinsic motivation. Rewards appear to be counter-productive only if they
serve to displace attention from the task towards the reward (Eisenberger and Cameron,
1996). There is evidence that extrinsic rewards encourage both creativity and innova-
tion implementation (Abbey and Dickson, 1983; Eisenberger and Cameron, 1996).
There is also a body of work examining ‘gainsharing’ as a device for stimulating pro-
ductivity and innovation that suggests the value of reward for innovation (Cotton,
1996; Heller et al., 1998). Gainsharing is the term used to describe systems used in com-
mercial organizations to involve staff in developing new and more effective means of
production. If employees develop ways of increasing production or improving quality,
they are rewarded with a share of the financial gains of the innovation. Evaluations of
‘gainsharing’ programmes suggest they are effective in increasing innovation, produc-
tivity and employee involvement in decision-making (Cotton, 1996).
It makes sense to argue that what should be rewarded is not the success of innova-
tion but genuine attempts at innovation. Otherwise it is likely that employees will
simply play safe with innovations that are neither radical nor novel (staying within
Find ways of rewarding teams that innovate, even if the innovations don’t work out.
6 Create a learning and development climate in the organization
For teams to innovate in organizations they must learn, be it from customers, suppli-
ers, training experiences or any other domain. Learning means changing our under-
standing, and changing understanding is fundamental to innovation. Those who
study organizational learning emphasize the importance of practices that encourage
‘outward focus’ in order to bring new knowledge into the company (Burgoyne et al.,
1999). Recruitment and selection can help determine whether or not people are
employed with the necessary attributes to make a contribution to the knowledge
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creation process. Induction and training activities can help shape the psychological
contract, potentially enhancing motivation and developing skills as well as the
required questioning, sharing and challenging behaviours. Appraisal and remunera-
tion strategies play a role in clarifying expectations and rewarding effective perfor-
mance, defined in terms of willingness to learn, take risks and communicate well.
Human Resource Management (HRM) activity therefore can help shape the learning
agenda, providing the impetus and incentive for individuals to explore learning and
develop their communication and team-working skills with others.
Various organizational learning mechanisms can assist in generating a variety of
perspectives in teams. Presenting team members with the opportunity to visit cus-
tomers or suppliers, regardless of their job role, potentially provides liaison with the
external environment and provokes questioning of the appropriateness of organiza-
tional practices and goals (McGrath, 1984). Similarly, intra-organizational second-
ments are likely to be beneficial in challenging thinking and generating the flow of
new ideas. Opportunities for team members to learn outside the constraints of their
immediate jobs will facilitate the transfer of knowledge internally and enrich individ-
uals’ perceptions of the challenges faced by other organizational members (Tsai, 2001).
The extent to which knowledge is then captured and disseminated can play an impor-
tant role in determining whether or not the opportunities presented for variety can be
made available across the organization as a whole (Kogut and Zander, 1992).
Companies can develop these learning mechanisms in several ways. Firstly, they can
enable visits to external suppliers or customers for teams that would not normally
have such contact as part of their job responsibilities. Furthermore, teams working on
the factory floor in one department can be seconded to another department so that
they can learn more about the processes and procedures in that area. Companies can
also provide support for team member learning/training that is not directly work
related. Finally, companies can implement systems that keep record of teams’ solu-
tions to problems and facilitate knowledge transfer (problem solutions or best prac-
tice) across teams.
Encourage team innovation by developing supportive HRM practices (recruitment, selection,
induction, training and appraisal), and encourage organizational learning via secondments, visits
to external organizations, a broad approach to training support, and knowledge management
which involves recording and communicating teams’ solutions and best practices.
7 Develop a climate for innovation in the organization
In a study comparing the work environments of highly creative projects against less
creative projects, Amabile and colleagues found that five aspects of the work environ-
ment consistently differed between the two groups (Amabile et al., 1996). These were
challenge, organizational encouragement, work group support, supervisory encour-
agement, and organizational impediments.
Challenge is regarded as a moderate degree of workload pressure that arises from an
urgent, intellectually challenging problem (Amabile, 1988; Amabile et al., 1996;
Hennessey, 2003). The authors distinguish challenge from excessive workload pres-
sure, which they argue is negatively related to innovation, and suggest that time
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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 posi-
tively related to intrinsic motivation and creativity.
Organizational encouragement includes three aspects of the work environment.
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 con-
ducive to creativity. The final aspect refers to the important role of collaborative idea
flow across the organization, participative management, and decision-making, in the
stimulation of innovation.
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 diver-
sity, mutual openness to ideas, constructive challenging of ideas, and shared commit-
ment 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.
The supervisory encouragement measure includes goal clarity, open supervisory
interactions, and perceived supervisory or leader support. Goal clarity is likely to
enable more focused problem-solving laying the groundwork for insightful and cre-
ative work. Amabile and colleagues (1996) 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, for-
mal 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 moti-
vation 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 still comparatively limited.
Senior managers should focus on managing the climate or culture of the organization in
order to increase employees’ experience of positive challenge; organizational encouragement
for innovation; teamworking; supervisory goal clarity, support and openness; and to decrease
their perceptions of chronic organizational hostility, conservatism and rigid formal structures.
Determining and increasing the factors that promote employee satisfaction may also lead to
higher levels of team innovation.
8 Establish team norms for innovation
Support for innovation involves the expectation, approval and practical support of
attempts to introduce new and improved ways of doing things in the work environment
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(West, 1990). Within teams, new ideas may be routinely rejected or ignored, or attract
verbal and practical support. Such group processes powerfully shape individual and
group behaviour and those which support innovation will encourage team members
to introduce innovations. In a longitudinal study of 27 hospital top management
teams, support for innovation was the most powerful predictor of team innovation of
any of the group processes or group composition factors examined (Anderson and
West, 1998; West and Anderson, 1996).
A manufacturing organization on the Isle of Wight that we visited provides a good
example of how innovative team norms may develop from relatively seemingly trivial
events. The main production team on the shop floor had complained about the stor-
age of dirty materials, and was given time off from production, and a budget to design
and build a suitable storage extension for the factory. They completed the task under
time and budget, and thereafter began to suggest many more innovations in work
processes and structures. The team, as a result of their good experience, developed
clear norms for valuing and discovering innovation. In effect, the team was provided
with the conditions to be innovative and, once empowered, proactively fostered inno-
vative team norms.
Encourage teams to be innovative and verbally and practically support team members’
ideas for new and improved products, services, or ways of working.
9 Encourage reflexivity in teams
Our research suggests that a key indicator of innovation in work teams is reflexivity.
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
adapt them accordingly (West, 1996; 2000).
Reflexivity can lead to radical change in the status quo and sometimes the creative
destruction of existing processes. For example, one plastics packaging production team
which we studied succeeded in removing management controls on intervention so
they were able to discuss product specifications, pricing and delivery dates directly
with customers. Productivity and quality improved, and the time from customers placing
their orders to delivery dropped by a factor of three.
Reflexivity requires a degree of safety however, since reflection is likely to reveal
gaps between how the team is performing and how it would like to perform.
Edmondson’s (1996; 1999) work helps us to understand the conditions within a team
which encourage reflexivity or learning. She found major differences between newly
formed intensive care nursing teams in their management of medication errors. In
some teams, members openly acknowledged and discussed their medication errors
(giving too much or too little of a drug, or administering the wrong drug) and dis-
cussed 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 devis-
ing innovations to prevent future errors were only possible in teams 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
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of pump. She also illustrates how failure to discuss errors and generate innovations led
to the costly failure of 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, or an unrelentingly positive affect. Safety is not the same as com-
fort; in contrast, it is predicted to facilitate risk.’ (Edmondson, 1999: 14). European
research on error management broadly supports Edmondson’s interpretations (e.g.
Van Dyck, 2000).
Teams benefit from taking time out from working to reflect on their work habits, objectives,
team processes and outcomes, make plans for change, implement them and reflect again. A
sense of safety helps teams self-reflectively explore in this way.
10 Ensure there is clarity of leadership in the team and that the leadership
style is appropriate for encouraging innovation
The team leader normally has a potent and pervasive influence on team innovation
and in particular team processes (Tannenbaum et al., 1996). The leader brings task
expertise, abilities and attitudes to the team that can influence the group design and
group norms (Hackman, 1990; 1992; 2002), and, through monitoring, feedback and
coaching, can help develop these processes, to assist the team to achieve its tasks
(McIntyre and Salas, 1995) and to innovate. The extent to which the leader defines
team objectives and helps organize the team to ensure progress towards achieving
these objectives can affect the level of team innovation.
Clarity of team leadership (team members are clear about where the leadership of
the team resides) is critical to the role of leadership in fostering team innovation
(regardless of whether leadership is shared). In a test of this proposition, West et al.
(2003) sampled 3447 respondents from 98 primary health care teams, 113 community
mental health teams, and 72 breast cancer care teams. The results revealed that lead-
ership clarity was associated with clear team objectives, high levels of participation,
commitment to excellence and support for innovation. Team processes consistently
predicted team innovation across all three samples. Clarity of team leadership pre-
dicted innovation in the latter two samples and team processes partially mediated this
Several leadership scholars (c.f. Barry, 1991; Kim et al., 1999; McCall, 1988) identi-
fied roles which are central to effective project work and innovation. They concluded
that leaders must engage in boundary spanning behaviour, facilitate teamwork, drive
innovation and direct project work.
Leadership boundary spanning involves the management of external relationships
including co-ordinating tasks, negotiating resources and goals with stakeholders as
well as scanning for information and ideas. Waldman and Atwater (1994) studied 40
R & D projects teams and found that, out of a range of leadership behaviours exam-
ined (including transformation leadership and goal setting behaviour), boundary
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spanning was the strongest predictor of research managers’ ratings of project
performance and innovation.
Facilitative leadership refers to encouraging safe team interactions, participation,
sharing of ideas and open discussion of different perspectives. Kim et al. (1999) sur-
veyed 87 R & D teams in six Korean organizations and found that the leader’s perfor-
mance of the team builder role was a significant predictor of team ratings of
innovation. A leader who acts as an innovator envisions project opportunities and
new approaches by questioning team assumptions and challenging the status quo.
Leaders who question approaches and suggest innovative ways of performing tasks
tend to lead innovative teams (Keller, 1992). Likewise Kim and colleagues (1999)
found that the leader’s technical problem-solving ability, in particular appraisal of
problems and identification of new ideas, was significantly correlated with R & D pro-
ject performance. Yukl et al. (1990) found that leaders who clarified tasks by commu-
nicating instructions and setting priorities, deadlines and standards, were most
effective in leading innovative teams.
It generally helps to ensure that leadership in the team is clear to all team members and
that there is no conflict over leadership. Ensure that leaders fulfil the roles that are critical
to innovation such as boundary spanning, facilitating, and directing; but also train leaders
to be aware of group processes; listen in order to understand rather than to appraise
or refute; assume responsibility for accurate team communication; be sensitive to unex-
pressed feelings; protect minority views; keep the discussion moving; and develop skills in
11 Manage conflict constructively and encourage
minorities to dissent within teams
Many scholars argue that the management of competing perspectives is fundamental
to the generation of creativity and innovation (Mumford and Gustafson, 1988; Nemeth
and Owens, 1996; Tjosvold, 1998). Such processes are characteristic of task-related con-
flict (as opposed to conflicts of relationship and process conflict, see De Dreu, 1997;
Jehn, 1997). They can arise from a common concern with the quality of task perfor-
mance in relation to shared objectives. Task conflict is an awareness of differences in
viewpoints and opinions about a task. 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 (Tjosvold, 1982; Tjosvold and Field, 1983; Tjosvold
and Johnson, 1977; Tjosvold et al., 1986; Tjosvold, 1998) have presented cogent
arguments and strong supportive evidence that constructive (task-related) contro-
versy in a co-operative group context, improves the quality of decision-making and
creativity (Tjosvold, 1991). Constructive controversy is characterised by full explo-
ration 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 mutu-
ally beneficial goals are emphasized, rather than in a competitive context, where
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decision-makers feel their personal competence is confirmed rather than questioned,
and where they perceive processes of mutual influence rather than attempted
For example, the most effective self-managing teams in a manufacturing plant that
Alper and Tjosvold (1993) studied were those which had compatible goals and pro-
moted constructive controversy. Members of teams which promoted inter-dependent
conflict management (people co-operated to work through their differences), com-
pared to teams with win/lose conflict (where team members tended to engage in a
power struggle when they had different views and interests), felt confident that they
could deal with differences. Such teams were rated as more productive and innovative
by their managers. Apparently, because of this success, members of these teams were
committed to working as a team.
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 and Clark,
1984; Nemeth, 1986; Nemeth and Chiles, 1988; Nemeth and Kwan, 1987; Nemeth
and Owens, 1996; Nemeth and Wachtler, 1983).
De Dreu and De Vries (1993, 1997) suggest that a homogenous workforce, in which
minority dissent is suppressed, will reduce creativity, innovation, individuality and
independence (see also Nemeth and Staw, 1989). Disagreement about ideas within a
group can be beneficial and some researchers even argue that team task or informa-
tion-related conflict is valuable, whether or not it occurs in a collaborative context,
since it can improve decision-making and strategic planning (Cosier and Rose, 1977;
Mitroff et al., 1977; Schweiger et al., 1989). This is because task-related conflict may
lead team members to re-evaluate the status quo and adapt their objectives, strategies
or processes more appropriately to their situation (Coser, 1970; Nemeth and Staw,
1989; Roloff, 1987; Thomas, 1979). However, De Dreu and Weingart (2003) suggest
that high levels of conflict in teams, regardless of whether the conflict is focused on
relationships or task, will inhibit team effectiveness and innovation.
In two studies involving postal work teams, 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 and West, 2001). It seems that
the social processes in the team necessary for minority dissent to influence the inno-
vation process are characterized by high levels of team member interaction, influence
over decision-making, and information sharing.
Encourage moderate task-related (as distinct from emotional or interpersonal) conflict and
minority dissent, along with high levels of participation since this will lead to debate and to
consideration of alternative interpretations of information available. This in turn will prompt
integrated and creative solutions to work-related problems – to innovation.
12 Don’t just bond … bridge
The strengths of team-working in organizations are the involvement of all in
contributing their skills and knowledge, in good collective decision-making and
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innovation – team bonding enables innovation. The fundamental weakness is the
tendency of team based organizations to be driven by intergroup competition, hostil-
ity and rivalry with likely consequent negative impacts on organizational performance
overall; in short, inter-group bias. Consequently, teams need to be persuaded to bridge
Mohrman et al. (1995) have pointed out that there are likely to be innovation ben-
efits of good linkages between groups and teams and across departments within orga-
nizations. The cross-disciplinarity, cross-functionality and cross-team perspectives that
such interactions can produce are likely to generate the kinds of dividends related to
innovation that heterogeneity within teams could offer.
In a study of 45 new product teams in five high technology companies, Ancona and
Caldwell (1992) found that when a work group recruited a new member from a func-
tional area in an organization, communication between the team and that area went
up dramatically. This would favour innovation through the incorporation of diverse
ideas and models gleaned from these different functional areas. Consistent with this,
the researchers discovered that the greater the group’s functional diversity, the more
team members communicated outside the work group’s boundaries and the higher rat-
ings of innovation they received from supervisors. The UNESCO research described
above (Andrews, 1979) also showed that the extent of communication between
research teams had strong relationships with scientific recognition of the teams, R & D
effectiveness, number of publications, and the applied value of their work (all surrogate
measures of innovation).
How can teams encourage good inter-group working? A fruitful avenue may be to
look at the two main causes of dysfunctional inter-group relations: conflicting inter-
ests or goals, and the disruptive dynamics of salient social categorisation (Turner,
1985). One way for the team to improve relationships with other teams would be to
make such improvement one of its four or five core work objectives. Teams can also
use secondments and set up cross team work projects. Another strategy is to improve
and encourage contact and open communication between teams. Such contacts usu-
ally lead to a weakening of perceptions of conflicting goals (Tjosvold, 1998). Open and
collaborative communication are a means by which trusting cross team relationships
can be created; such trusting relationships enable conflicts of interest to be managed
There are many ways for the organization to encourage inter-group working (see
West, Tjosvold and Smith, 2003), including encouraging teams to downplay the
salience of group boundaries by developing a common super-ordinate identity within
the organization; rewarding the maintenance and development of cross team rela-
tionships; making team boundaries more permeable, e.g. through rotating team mem-
bers in different teams (see also Katz and Allen, 1988).
Encourage different teams to work together, share best practice, develop joint projects
and strive to find a common super-ordinate identity within the organization in order to
encourage the innovation that springs from bridging boundaries. Reward inter-team
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Based on research findings, we outlined a number of practical recommendations that
can be applied in organizational settings where the intent is to encourage teams to be
innovative. These recommendations can be summarized in four main points.
First the team’s task must be a whole task: one that is perceived by the team as sig-
nificant to the organization or the wider society; one that makes varied demands on
team members and requires them to use their knowledge and skills interdependently;
one that provides opportunities for social contact between them; and one that pro-
vides opportunities for learning, skill development and task development. The group
should be relatively autonomous in the conduct of its work.
Second, the group should be given time during the early stages of the innovation
process, in an unpressured environment, to generate creative ideas for new and improved
products or ways of working. This may mean taking time away from the usual work-
place and working in (ideally) a pleasant and relaxing environment. The services of a
skilled facilitator, knowledgeable about research evidence on group creative processes
(as opposed to popular belief and consultancy mythology), can help groups to maxi-
mize their creative output. An intra-group psychosocial environment experienced by
group members as unthreatening will best facilitate such processes.
Third, at later stages of the innovation process, if group members feel pressured, or
uncertain, they are more likely to implement innovations, as long as the demands and
uncertainties are created by extra- not intra-group agents (this is sometimes called the
‘burning platform’ effect) and the level of demand is not crippling. Today, competi-
tion, threat, pressure and uncertainty are characteristic of most public and commercial
sector environments, particularly as globalization increases apace – there is rarely rea-
son to increase the level of demand. But there is much more reason to improve the
level of safety and the integration skills of team members.
Fourth and above all, group members must individually and collectively develop
the skills to work well as a team, encouraging integrating group processes to ensure
that they innovate effectively. This means continually clarifying and ensuring group
member commitment to shared objectives; encouraging information sharing, regular
group member interaction, and shared influence over decision-making; and encour-
aging high levels of emphasis on quality, and practical support (time, money, and
co-operation) for innovation. It means encouraging group members to regularly reflect
upon and adapt their objectives, strategies and processes – consciously and continu-
ally improving their functioning as a group.
In sum, for creativity and innovation implementation to emerge from group
functioning – for groups to be sparkling fountains of ideas and changes – the context
must be demanding but there must be strong group integration processes and a high
level of intra-group safety. This requires that members have the integration abilities to
work effectively in teams; and that they develop a safe psychosocial climate and appro-
priate group processes (clarifying objectives, encouraging participation, constructive
controversy, reflexivity and support for innovation). Such conditions are likely to
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