Factors That Can Make Teams More Innovative

WU, Zhiming | WU, Xin | FARH, Larry Jiing-Lih | CHEN, Gilad | CAMPBELL-BUSH, Elizabeth M

Innovation has become an essential survival feature in today’s world, where new technologies and evolving markets mean companies have to be creative and open to new ideas to stay competitive. Much research has been written on the factors that underpin individual innovation and team innovation. But how do they interact? And what can managers do to maximise their combined potential for innovation?

Gilad Chen, Jiing-Lih Farh, Elizabeth M Campbell-Bush, Zhiming Wu and Xin Wu seek to fill the gap by developing a model that takes into account the motivators for innovation in both individuals and teams. They then test these ideas on 95 R&D teams in 33 Chinese companies.

In individuals the motivators include a person’s own interest and capacity to bring about change in their work environment, especially their intrinsic motivation and the extent to which they feel capable of accomplishing their responsibilities (their “role-breadth self-efficacy”).

In teams, the motivators include team members’ perception that there is support for an innovation climate at work, and transformational leadership that can support such an environment and motivate workers.

In the model team variables can impact on individual motivation to engage in innovative performance in a top-down fashion, and vice versa – individuals can impact on teams.

“Team leaders’ transformational leadership behaviours can instil a sense of confidence and excitement in their followers regarding the work they engage in, making it positively related to job and creative self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. Team support for an innovation climate, meanwhile, exerts even more proximal influence on members’ role-breadth self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation given such a climate is more specific to the innovation domain than transformational leadership,” the authors said.

“As for individual innovation, it exerts a unique, emergent influence on team innovation – with individual innovation performance mediating the link between support for innovation climate and team innovation performance.”

The authors found support for these ideas in their surveys of the 95 R&D teams, which included separate questionnaires for research team members and team leaders, as well as their external managers who rated their innovativeness.

Significantly, they were able to confirm that team-level support for an innovation climate could explain the variation in motivation and innovative performance among individuals, and that  individual innovative performance influenced team innovative performance.

“Our study shows that models of individual and team innovation can reinforce each other, and moreover explain more variance in innovative performance at each level than a single-level model (individual or team level) can do,” they said.

“Our study also illuminates the tangible approaches that leaders can adopt to enhance team members’ individual and collective motivation to innovate.” These include having leaders engage in transformational behaviour to create a climate that motivates teams and individual members, and bringing individuals with a higher proactive personality onto teams because they can enhance team innovativeness.

FARH, Larry Jiing-Lih

Professor Emeritus