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Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfskunde
Expertisecentrum Human Resource Management & Organisational Behaviour
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Technological Toolkit and Team Creativity in Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Datum:05 december 2017
Auteur:Suqing Wu
Technological Toolkit and Team Creativity in Cross-Disciplinary Teams
Technological Toolkit and Team Creativity in Cross-Disciplinary Teams

In industries where technology use is central to task execution, organizations often concern about how to make the best use of technology tools to increase the likelihood to generate creative outcomes. Whereas technology development has always been seen as innovation, it also stimulates the production of creative ideas and outputs. This is especially the case for cross-disciplinary teams in which multiple technologies can be applied at the same time by different team members, such as prototypes, metaphors, design tools, and human resource systems. For example, an animation film teams need several technologies like puppet animation, live action, and motion capture to make creative films.  

The set of technological tools that team members can draw upon is called technology toolkit. It is a potentially powerful antecedent of creativity, and teams owning different toolkits may differ in their ability to be creative. One recent paper by Mannucci (2017) discussed how technology toolkits influence creativity in cross-disciplinary teams. On the one hand, tools can be used as knowledge repositories, which stores diverse information that can be accessed and used. The more knowledge a team possesses, the more likely that teams recombine the knowledge and come up with creativity. On the other hands, tools are shared among within teams and therefore foster the cooperation among team members. For technologies that are widely used in the industry, those tools also bridge the communication with the outside world. In this sense, the size of the toolkit is positively related to team creativity: teams owning some tools can assess to distant perspectives and become more flexible in using knowledge, and therefore have a better chance to be creative.

In addition to the size of the toolkit,  the diffusion of technologies in the industry also has an influence on team creativity. Having a toolkit that is widely used in the industry means that many other teams can also use it, and therefore teams have more opportunities to communicate with other teams effectively. It also increases the possibility that teamwork is recognized as a novel in the field. For example, animation creators once regarded the computer graphic technology as weird and unsuitable when it is introduced into the field because only a few people use that technology at that time. The new technology only became popular and recognized after some experts promoted it.

While teams are likely to use different tools during the task, there will always be a focal tool. Experts play an important role in utilizing those core toolkits, as they reduce the difficulty to use and to integrate other tools. Besides, Mannucci (2017) believed that experts also reduce coordination costs and foster flexibility in switching between toolkits. In his study, he found that for teams that have many experts, there is no strong relationship between toolkit size, toolkit field diffusion, and team creativity. Therefore, managers should pay attention to the composition of team members and carefully consider how many experts should be included in order to make the best use of technology toolkits.

In sum, the author suggested that the way that teams use technological toolkits has something to do with the coordination, knowledge combination and communication with the outside world. Managers should consider three perspectives - the toolkit size, its characteristics (e.g., field diffusion), and the people who have expertise on it - and find a balance.

Suqing Wu (s.wu@rug.nl) is a PhD candidate specializing in Team creativity. She studies how newcomers affect team members to achieve creative outcomes and currently works on a project about role differentiation in team creativity processes.  

Reference

Mannucci, P. V. (2017). Drawing Snow White and animating Buzz Lightyear: Technological toolkit characteristics and creativity in cross-disciplinary teams. Organization Science, 28(4), 711-728.