Improving Virtual Teams through Creativity

Improving Virtual Teams through Creativity

Teresa Torres-Coronas (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain) and Mila Gascó-Hernández (Open University of Catalonia, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch298
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Abstract

Many studies have already shown how a team can become more creative, and therefore more efficient, but only a few researchers have focused on how a virtual team can use creativity techniques to perform better. In this article, we study what differences there are (both in terms of processes and in terms of results) when creativity techniques are used in the management of traditional and virtual teams. To do this, we discuss three main elements: the definition of creativity and its relationships with team performance, the variables that enhance creativity in a virtual team, and the most suitable creativity techniques for a virtual environment.
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Background

Most researchers and practitioners believe that the key to organizational success lies in developing intellectual capital and acquiring a new set of thinking: the creativity to produce an idea and the innovation to translate the idea into a novel result (Roffe, 1999). Explaining the meaning of creativity is not straightforward; there are thousands of definitions of the term. So, for the purpose of this article, we will understand creativity as the shortest way to search for unconventional wisdom and to produce paradigm-breaking ideas and innovation. This unconventional wisdom through the generation and use of creative knowledge is the key to building sustainable competitive advantages (Carr, 1994).

In order to develop more innovative products, services, or processes, organizations must encourage their employees to become more creative. During the last few decades, several researchers (Andriopoulous, 2001; Nemiro & Runco, 2001; McFadzean, 1998; Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby & Herron, 1996) tried to describe contextual factors largely under the control of managers that influence creativity, though as creativity is a multidimensional concept, there is not a universal theory yet (Walton, 2003). This section focus on how managers and/or team leaders can improve creative climate within virtual structures.

The literature review conducted by Andriopoulous (2001) highlights five major organizational factors that enhance creativity in a traditional work environment: 1) organizational climate, or designing a working atmosphere that fosters participation and freedom of expression; 2) a democratic and participative leadership style; 3) an organizational culture that nourishes innovative ways of solving problems; 4) new resources and skills through the development of human resources creative talent; and 5) a structure and systems that include building flat structures, and rewards, recognition, and career systems that emphasize people creative thinking. Scholars argue that these factors create conditions that enhance creativity both at the team and individual levels.

From a study of the social psychology of creativity, Amabile (1996) cites the three main origins of creative performance as: task motivation, domain-relevant skills, and creativity-relevant skills. She differentiates between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, proposing that the intrinsic motivation enhances creativity. In Amabile’s research, the work team environment is also considered to exert a powerful impact on creativity by influencing the employee’s intrinsic motivation. Management practices indicate that performance can be fostered by allowing freedom and autonomy to conduct one’s work, matching individuals to work assignments, and building effective work teams that represent a diversity of skills and are made up of individuals who trust and communicate well with each other, challenge each other’s ideas, are mutually supportive, and are committed to the work they are doing (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1987). Creativity is best achieved in open climates (Feurer, Chaharbaghi & Wargin, 1996).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Team: A group of people who are geographically separated and who work across boundaries of space and time by utilizing computer-driven technologies such as desktop video conferencing, collaborative software, and Internet/intranet systems. How these teams interact defines them as “virtual.”

Autonomy and Freedom: Allowing individuals responsibility for initiating new ideas and making decisions; a sense of control over one’s work.

Creative Performance: High level of capability in an idea or solution, applied to solve a problem in an imaginative way, resulting in effective action. Environmental factors such as autonomy and freedom, challenge, clear direction, diversity/flexibility/tension, support for creativity, trust, and participative safety directly affect the creative performance within work teams.

Support for Creativity: An organizational focus on support for or encouragement of creativity.

Converging Thinking Techniques: Tools used during the convergent phases of the CPS to improve the evaluation and selection of the most relevant ideas, thoughts, or data. Pluses, potentials, and concerns (PPC); highlighting; and the evaluation matrix are some of the most common converging thinking techniques.

Creativity: The production of something new or original that is useful; the act of creating recombining ideas or seeing new relationships among them. Creativity is usually defined in terms of either a process or a product and at times has also been defined in terms of a kind of personality or environmental press. These are four Ps of creativity: process, product, person, and press.

Challenge: Work that is stimulating, engaging, and meaningful; a sense of having to work hard on challenging and important tasks.

This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 1419-1424, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global)

Divergent Thinking Techniques: Tools used during the divergent phases of the CPS to improve the generation of ideas, thoughts, or data without evaluation. These tools are classified according to their primary use of related or unrelated problem stimuli. Brainstorming, brainwriting, forced connections, analogies, and metaphors are some of the most used divergent thinking techniques.

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