Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Shake it up - New faces help group creativity

We all know it’s good to shake it up a little every now and again, to introduce some new faces to different areas of the business or to assign people to new roles. We see it at government level in cabinet reshuffles, we even see it in sports teams where a few fresh faces gets the whole team playing differently.

I recently came across some research in this area from Hoon-Seok Choi at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea and Leigh Thompson at Northwestern University, USA. They looked at how new faces impact on a groups level of creativity.

The study examined the creativity of 33 three-person groups across two tasks. The idea was very simple. After the first task, half the groups exchanged one of their team for a newcomer from another group. The other half of the groups kept the same personnel throughout. The first task got 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 asked the groups to think of as many uses as possible for a cardboard box.

There were no differences between the groups for the first task. They all came up with roughly the same number of sub groups for vegetables. However, when it came to the second task, the 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 members. Further analysis of the contributions made by each individual showed that the new guy on the team increased the creativity of the two original team members.

There could be downsides to this however. For example you could break up a well-balanced group, you could introduce personality conflicts or create leadership rivalries. Getting back to sport teams, you might see this go wrong when a manager tinkers too much with a winning team.

That aside, if you have a group that needs to be creative or innovative, try and mix it up a little. Fix any conflicts as they arise. Those fresh faces and new perspectives not only bring new inputs but also get the incumbents thinking more creatively. 

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