TEAMS AND INNOVATION

By innovation we mean “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 benefit the job, the work team or the organization” (West and Farr, 1990, p. 9). There is an important differentiation in this field of research between creativity and innovation. Innovation involves two stages: the production of new ideas, and their implementation (Amabile, 1996; West and Farr, 1990; Woodman et al., 1993). Creativity is involved in the first stage of the innovation process—idea generation—which can be considered as a subprocess of innovation. The study in this chapter investigates the antecedents to idea generation in a self-managing team context. Idea generation is seen as an outcome of the team’s development of a novel and useful solution to a problem encountered in the pursuit of a work goal (Drucker, 1985; Hirst et al., 2009). In what follows, we use the term innovation to also include creativity.

Despite the relevance of creative ideas at the fuzzy front end of product innovation, studies of creativity at team level are limited (Amabile, 1983, 1988). Anderson and West (1998, p. 239) argue that, “comparatively few studies have focused at the level-of-analysis of the work group. This is a notable shortcoming because it is often the case that an innovation is originated and subsequently developed by a team into routinized practice within organizations.” Investigations of how groups within organization can promote or constrain innovation are scarce (e.g., Burningham and West, 1995; Drach-Zahavy and Somech, 2001).

Although there is some research indicating that both individual qualities and environmental factors affect the level of creativity in teams (e.g., Amabile, 1988; Hargadon and Sutton, 1997; Oldham and Cummings, 1996) there is little evidence showing how team-level factors influence creativity in teams. Some studies show that team processes are key components of the development of innovation (Taggar, 2002), and meta-analysis of the team level antecedents to creativity and innovation in the workplace (Hulsheger et al., 2009) shows that team input variables (e.g., team composition, team structure) have a weaker effect than team process variables (vision, participative safety, support for innovation, and task orientation). However, these findings are inconsistent, suggesting unknown moderating effects in addition to simple direct effects (Hulsheger et al., 2009).

Among team processes, team learning plays a dominant role and the empirical evidence suggests that organizational and collective learning form the basis for the development and adoption of organizational innovation (Argyris, 1993). Specifically, the learning function describes the extent to which team members put their effort to reflect on the team’s objectives and strategies aimed at creating a team-level intellectual product which triggers change (Larson and Christensen, 1993; Swieringa and Wierdsma, 1992; West, 1996). Additionally, although not connected directly to innovation, research shows that team learning leads to improved problem recognition (Hirokawa, 1990), better scanning of the environment (Ancona and Caldwell, 1992), and generation of creative solutions (Maier and Solem, 1962), all of which could be relevant to team innovation. However, by limiting the analysis to the cognitive representation of knowledge and interpretation of information, important dimensions explaining the team’s psychosocial functioning based on motivational and personal factors and the related social contextual influences (Bandura, 1986) are neglected.

The creation of new knowledge at team level relies on individual characteristics and social interaction (Shalley et al., 2004): team members need to share knowledge within their group, and to identify and capture other members’ solutions and ideas in order to combine them into workable solutions (Baer et al., 2010; Harrison and Rouse, 2014). A willingness to interact is essential for team members to secure a creative outcome within a proper team environment where the individual is motivated to exploit his or her full potential (Aalbers et al., 2013; Shin et al., 2012).

In this light, researchers have analyzed more in depth the cognitive motivating processes that foster innovation, as recommended by Locke and Latham’s (1990) goal-setting theory.

In the case of self-managing teams, investigation of the organizational learning processes requires greater attention to the motivational and social dimensions of teams. In contrast to traditionally managed teams in which team members had little autonomy and restricted decision making authority, self-managing teams can make their own decisions about work processes and regulate their own behavior. For instance, self-managing teams usually have the authority to establish their own work plans, define budgets, manage production orders, and monitor product quality (Barker, 1993; Stewart et al., 1999).

On the other hand, shared responsibility for the assigned team task, a smaller number of team members, and delegation of authority over the team’s work processes promotes collective thinking and a collective intention (Searle, 1990) by enabling the emergence of naturally occurring team interactions which however, eventually constrain individual activity in ways that often are difficult to perceive and understand (Barker, 1993). Along these lines, Tuomela (1995, p. 2) proposes a we-intention as the “commitment of an individual to participate in joint action, and involves an implicit or explicit agreement between the participants to engage in that joint action.” Accordingly, we-intentions rely on individual commitment, and commitment to offering mutual support meaning that a member is “not only committed to performing the preassigned part but he is also committed to furthering” (Tuomela, 1995, p. 129) the joint action (such as supporting others in running their parts, when needed). Thus, unlike the traditional personal intention which points to an action that a person can perform by her- or himself, we consider we-intentions as focusing more on the social behavior within the team. We-intentions represent intentions articulated either in the form, “I intend that we act jointly” (Bratman, 1997), or in the form, “I intend that our group performs group activity X” (e.g., Tuomela, 1995). Therefore, we-intentions mirror the intention of a person identifying him- or herself as a social category, acting as an individual actor but in concert with his or her team members. In line with this, some studies (e.g., Bagozzi and Dhola- kia, 2002) show how positive anticipated emotions and social identities affect we-intentions. Therefore, under these conditions, team members are psychologically tied to social foci such as goals (Klein et al., 2001; Herscovitch and Meyer, 2002; Morrow, 1993), as well as to their work groups (Becker et al., 1996; Bishop and Dow Scott, 2000; Siders et al., 2001). A collective intention to learn fosters the development of team members’ competences and master of tasks, as result of their intrinsic interest in the innovative task which gives them the means to improve their skills and knowledge. This increases the likelihood that team members will decide to devote their efforts to complex tasks in situations where there are no extrinsic rewards (Dweck and Sorich, 1999). In addition, intrinsic motivation to perform the innovation task fosters a deeper and more serious effort to learning which often leads to creative behaviors (Amabile, 1996) and a better attitude to undertaking difficult and stimulating tasks (VandeWalle, 1997). Under these conditions, individuals will invest their efforts in acquiring new knowledge and realizing “deep-processing strategies” needed to tackle complex tasks (Elliot and McGregor, 2001).

A we-intention demonstrates individual intention to be involved in a joint activity not as an individual action but as contributing to group performance or group action as a member of the group. In this case, the individual looks at the group activity holistically in order to identify his or her part in a social representation (Bagozzi and Lee, 2002). We-intentions to perform a group act are promoted by (i) individual reasons to perform the group act (e.g., attitudes to conducting a joint activity with others);

  • (ii) interpersonal pressure to perform a group act (e.g., subjective norms);
  • (iii) group norms to perform a group act, and (iv) social identity related to a group act (Bagozzi and Lee, 2002). Therefore, all learning activities— within the team and related to direct experience—can occur vicariously by observing others’ behaviors and their consequences (Bandura, 1986; Rosenthal and Zimmerman, 1978)

However, individuals learn and increase their knowledge and skills based on the information carried on by modeling influences constituted by team norms. In this setting, vicarious learning can also occur:

“By observing a model of the desired behavior, an individual forms an idea of how response components must be combined and sequenced to produce the new behavior. In other words, people guide their actions by prior notions rather than by relying on outcomes to tell them what they must do” (Bandura, 1977, p. 35).

Based on this reasoning, we analyze the role of team social norms for predicting team learning and innovation. We argue that an important part of a team’s self-regulated learning and innovation activities stems from established team conduct, which acts as source of influence that guides team members’ behaviors.

 
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