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Management article
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Reference no. SMR46401
Published by: MIT Sloan School of Management
Published in: "MIT Sloan Management Review", 2005
Length: 3 pages

Abstract

A March 2004 paper published in Creativity and Innovation Management, makes the case that the amount of communication among the members of small research-and-development teams makes a big difference in their creativity. The paper, ‘Stimulating the Potential: Creative Performance and Communication in Innovation Teams’, was authored by Jan Kratzer, assistant professor for business development; Roger Leenders, associate professor of business development; and Jo van Engelen, professor of business development, all from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The authors studied innovation teams in 11 Dutch companies involved in developing hardware products ranging from computers to copiers. They collected questionnaires from 243 employees on 44 teams. The idea was to measure how creative performance, as self-reported by the employees, was affected by the levels and patterns of communication among team members. The frequency of communication was found to be a significant factor in creative output. Earlier research indicated that effective teamwork requires that team members communicate a minimum of one to three times per week. But innovation teams tend to communicate much more than that, Kratzer says. ‘A certain amount of communication is necessary, but when it exceeds that threshold, it becomes a negative’, and teams perform less well. This finding is not a simple indictment of chats around the water cooler. Rather, the authors posit that extensive communication, whether face-to-face, by phone, by e-mail or through instant messaging, can lead to a group-think mentality that stifles originality. However, the authors found that too little communication among a team''s subgroups also leads to suboptimal performance. The longer a team stays together, the study found, the more likely it is that cliques will form. Larger teams are able to counteract clique formation by rotating individuals through a number of different subgroups. Small companies, however, may not have that option. In those cases, Kratzer advises that managers should link subgroups in a way that facilitates communication among them. The authors caution that their results may not apply to teams of every size or teams working on products other than those studied. Teams that develop, say, software or food products might be smaller than the teams of hardware designers in the study, and their optimal patterns of communication might be different.

About

Abstract

A March 2004 paper published in Creativity and Innovation Management, makes the case that the amount of communication among the members of small research-and-development teams makes a big difference in their creativity. The paper, ‘Stimulating the Potential: Creative Performance and Communication in Innovation Teams’, was authored by Jan Kratzer, assistant professor for business development; Roger Leenders, associate professor of business development; and Jo van Engelen, professor of business development, all from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The authors studied innovation teams in 11 Dutch companies involved in developing hardware products ranging from computers to copiers. They collected questionnaires from 243 employees on 44 teams. The idea was to measure how creative performance, as self-reported by the employees, was affected by the levels and patterns of communication among team members. The frequency of communication was found to be a significant factor in creative output. Earlier research indicated that effective teamwork requires that team members communicate a minimum of one to three times per week. But innovation teams tend to communicate much more than that, Kratzer says. ‘A certain amount of communication is necessary, but when it exceeds that threshold, it becomes a negative’, and teams perform less well. This finding is not a simple indictment of chats around the water cooler. Rather, the authors posit that extensive communication, whether face-to-face, by phone, by e-mail or through instant messaging, can lead to a group-think mentality that stifles originality. However, the authors found that too little communication among a team''s subgroups also leads to suboptimal performance. The longer a team stays together, the study found, the more likely it is that cliques will form. Larger teams are able to counteract clique formation by rotating individuals through a number of different subgroups. Small companies, however, may not have that option. In those cases, Kratzer advises that managers should link subgroups in a way that facilitates communication among them. The authors caution that their results may not apply to teams of every size or teams working on products other than those studied. Teams that develop, say, software or food products might be smaller than the teams of hardware designers in the study, and their optimal patterns of communication might be different.

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