Shifting focus: The influence of affective diversity on team creativity


Author Information : Kyle Emich (University of Delaware)
Lynne Vincent (Syracuse University)

Year of Publication : Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (forthcoming)

Summary of Findings : The nature of your teammates' emotional state can significantly affect your team's creative outcomes and process, and even one person in a bad mood can harm your team's creativity.

Research Questions : Hypothesis 1 (H1): Teams in which all members are experiencing activated promotion-focused affective states will generate ideas longer than teams in which all members are experiencing activated prevention-focused affective states, resulting in the selection of more novel ideas for implementation.

Hypothesis 2 (H2): In teams containing members experiencing activated and deactivated affective states, teams whose activated members are promotion-focused will generate ideas for longer and thus select more novel ideas for implementation than teams whose activated members are prevention-focused.

Hypothesis 3 (H3): Team members experiencing activated-prevention focus affect will actively attempt to shift their teams from idea generation to idea selection.

Hypothesis 4 (H4): Teams containing members experiencing activated promotion-focused affect and members containing activated prevention-focused affect will generate ideas for less time than teams only containing members experiencing activated-promotion focused affect. This will result in the production of less novel ideas.

What we know : Many organizations are seeking creative solutions and ideas from their employees, and more often, organizations are using teams of employees to be creative. Our emotions affect our daily organizational lives, so it becomes crucial that we understand how our emotions affects our team's outcomes and processes and, moreover, how our emotions interact with our team members' emotions. This paper examined how the composition and combination of different individual emotional (affective) states affects the team's creative process and outcomes.

Novel Findings : Current research tends to examine affective convergence such that all members of the team are experiencing the same emotion. We shift away from that to focus on the affective divergence of team members affects their outcomes and process. Moreover, we examine how the composition of affective divergence affects the team's process and outcomes. For instance, what happens when one team member is sad while another team member is relaxed? Our approach contributes to the research by viewing teams as more than composites of their members, but as systems that individual members actively assess and interact within.

These findings demonstrate that while valence (e.g. are you in a good mood or a bad mood) plays a role in how that team member affects the team, it is a more complicated story than just positive and negative emotions. The underlying nature of the emotion is important.
Team members experiencing activated promotion-focused affect – whether positive (e.g. happiness) or negative (e.g. anger) – tend to focus their teams on idea generation, resulting in the selection of more novel ideas (but not more useful ideas). Alternatively, team members experiencing activated prevention-focused affect (e.g. tension, fear) shift their teams toward idea selection, resulting in reduced idea novelty. When multiple affective states exist within the same team, more activated states such as anger and excitement (compared to relaxation for instance) dominate the creative process.

Implications for Practice : This research shows that having someone in a bad mood on your team may not be bad for your creative outcomes. However, it depends what type of bad mood that person is in. If they are angry, that person experiencing that promotion-focused emotion may help the team generate more novel ideas but will also propel them forward to the idea selection phase. If that person is experiencing a prevention-focused emotion such as fear, the person may shift the team away from idea generation prematurely, and, as a result, the team will generate and select fewer novel ideas.
The findings indicate that affective diversity can help a team during the creative process, depending on the underlying nature of the affective states team members are experiencing. We find that activated affective states with a promotion focus support idea generation. Therefore, it may be prudent for team leaders, especially in creative environments, to take time at the beginning of idea generation meetings to energize team members by becoming excited about the task at hand or potentially even angry about negative consequences of the problem the team is solving. Using anger might be particularly useful for teams working in NGOs or for philanthropic causes who are generating ideas to promote the welfare of the world or resolve an injustice. Again, the focus should be on activity and energy as more passive deactivated states such as relaxation do not seem to facilitate team creativity.

Furthermore, an organization’s need to intervene may depend on the reason someone is having a bad day. Not all bad moods will affect the team’s creative process negatively. As stated, a creative team may benefit from having an angry individual on it. Therefore, it would be useful for a manager to discover the nature of a person’s negative affective state. Organizations could consider training managers in emotional intelligence to help them analyze and understand others’ emotions (e.g. Cote & Miners, 2006). Alternatively, when a decision needs to be made, it may benefit leaders to take a more serious tone that will naturally lead team members towards idea selection.

However, there is also a cautionary tale for managers supervising creative teams. Our research demonstrates that a fearful member can inhibit their teammates’ creativity by curtailing idea generation. Fear may emerge for different reasons. Someone may be concerned about success, which may impact her standing in the organization or ability to keep her job. She might be concerned about the availability of resources. She might be scared that her ideas will be negatively evaluated by the organization. Managers need to be attentive to team members and reduce any sense of fear. Fear from even one person can negatively affect the team and damage their creative performance, which may contribute to even more fear. This finding coincides with work on the importance of psychological safety in organizations and organizational teams (e.g. Edmondson, 1999).

While our finding that affective diversity influences team processing represents a novel exploration in the organizational literature, some organizations that survive on their ability to continuously innovate already invoke practices that influence the affective states of their employees. Noted creative companies such a Google, Facebook and Yelp provide their employees game rooms, open bars, Disneyland inspired facades, restaurants and even giant twisting slides to move between floors. Our findings suggest that in addition to other purported benefits, such as decreasing turnover and reducing stress, these tactics may enhance the creative processes of the teams that these organizations rely on to enact their innovative missions by manipulating their employees into activated promotion-focused affective states. Additionally, our results suggest that organizations, especially those that do not employ these strategies, may want to heed employees who appear to be having a bad day and take active steps to reorient their affective state to be more activated and promotion focused, especially since our results indicate that one – or a few – activated prevention-focused apples may spoil the barrel.

Implications on Research: While our results contribute to organizational research regarding affect, teams and creativity, there were limitations which represent interesting areas for future research to clarify and extend. First, many organizational teams act together over longer periods of time than in our laboratory studies. In such cases, teams may engage in a more iterative process where they switch between idea generation and selection multiple times, possibly over multiple tasks. In our tasks, which were specifically designed to create one clear idea generation phase followed by one clear idea selection phase, a minority of teams took this approach. However, Goh, Goodman, and Weingart (2013) found that interactive media development teams iterate between experimentation and validation cycles to balance acquiring new insights and specifying existing designs. Similarly, Harrison and Rouse (2014) found that modern dance teams use elastic coordination processes to integrate or de-integrate based on the dynamic constraints they face. These results strengthen the need to understand why teams switch between phases of a more iterative creative process as they interact over time. Our study provides initial evidence that affect may be one driver of these shifts. However, additional research involving established interacting teams would help to clarify this role (George, 2007; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004).

We also purposefully used a lab setting to control several team properties, which may vary in the field, most notably the presence of a formal hierarchy. While our lab teams had no leaders, in organizational teams, even self-managed ones, leaders nearly always emerge (Hackman, 2002). There are several ways leader affect may influence the team more than that of other members. First, in line with work by Sy, Cote, and Saavedra (2005), team members are more likely to adapt the positive or negative affective state of a team leader compared to other members because leaders are more salient. In terms of our findings, this line of work indicates that who has what type of affect may influence team processes to the same degree – or to a greater degree – than how many have what type. For example, it is possible that a scared leader could lead a team of four generally happy members to a less creative outcome, or conversely that a team of four nervous members could be led to a highly creative outcome by an excited and energizing leader. Future research should examine such possibilities.

Full Citations : Emich, K. J., & Vincent, L. C. (forthcoming). "Shifting focus: The influence of affective diversity on team creativity." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Abstract : We propose and test a theory of how diversity in a team’s initial affective composition impacts its creativity by examining how team members’ qualitatively different affective states converge to influence their team’s creative process and outcomes. Three studies involving 1,625 participants on 427 teams support an activation-regulatory focus explanation. Team members experiencing activated promotion-focused affect – whether positive (e.g. happiness) or negative (e.g. anger) – tend to focus their teams on idea generation, resulting in the selection of more novel ideas. Alternatively, team members experiencing activated prevention-focused affect (e.g. tension, fear) shift their teams toward idea selection, resulting in reduced idea novelty. When multiple affective states exist within the same team, more activated states dominate the creative process. Prevention-focused states also tend to dominate promotion-focused states with a few exceptions. We discuss our findings in terms of their implications for the study of team creativity and affective convergence and divergence in teams.

The nature of your teammates’ emotional state can significantly affect your team’s creative outcomes and process, and even one person in a bad mood can harm your team’s creativity.

Lynne Vincent

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