Friday, 11 November 2005

New team members spark group creativity

Here’s a research finding to console Prime Minister Blair following his latest unplanned cabinet reshuffle. Apparently, substituting a team-member for a newcomer can help increase group creativity. That’s according to Hoon-Seok Choi at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea and Leigh Thompson at Northwestern University, USA.

They compared the creativity of 33 three-person groups across two tasks. After the first task, half the groups exchanged one of their team for a newcomer from another group, whereas the other half of the groups kept the same personnel throughout. The first task required the groups to think of as many ways as possible to categorise 12 vegetables into subgroups (e.g. can be eaten raw vs. cannot be eaten raw). The second task required the groups to think of as many uses as possible for a cardboard box.

There were no differences between the groups in the number of vegetable sub-categories they thought of. But those groups who swapped one of their members then went on to think of significantly more uses for a cardboard box, and significantly more different kinds of uses, than did the groups who’d kept the same personnel throughout. Analysis of the contributions made by each individual showed that a newcomer to a team increased the creativity of the two original team members.

The researchers cautioned that things are more complex in real-life scenarios. For example, recomposition of team membership could lead to interpersonal conflict and of course creativity isn’t always the aim of a group. However, they concluded that “For the most part, introducing new talent to the group can ensure that the group does not go stale”.

Choi, H-K. & Thompson, L. (2005). Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 98, 121-132.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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