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It's What You Do And The Way That You Do It: Team Task, Team Size, and Innovation-Related Group Processes. by Curral, L. A., Forrester, R. H. Dawson, J. F. and West, M. A. Published in ‘European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology’, volume 10, issue 2, pp 187-204.
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TEAM TASK, SIZE, AND INNOVATIVE PROCESSES 187 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF WORK AND ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2001, 10 (2), 187–204
It’s what you do and the way that you do it: Team task, team size, and innovation-related group processes Luis A. Curral
University of Lisbon, Portugal
Rosalind H. Forrester
Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK
Jeremy F. Dawson and Michael A. West Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK and Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, UK
This article describes a study of the relationships between team inputs (task type and team size) and team processes in 87 cross industry Portuguese teams, some of which had high and some low requirements to innovate. Team processes were measured using the Team Climate Inventory (TCI), which focuses on clarity of and commitment to team objectives, levels of participation, support for innovation, and quality emphases. Three hypotheses were tested. The first proposed that teams carrying out tasks with a high innovation requirement would have high scores on a measure of team processes. This was supported insofar as such teams reported higher levels of participation and support for innovation. The second hypothesis proposed that large teams would have poorer team processes. This hypothesis was confirmed. The third hypothesis concerned the interaction between size and innovation. The results suggested that large teams operating under a relatively high pressure to innovate have poorer team processes than large teams that do not have a high requirement to innovate.
This article examines the impact of team task and team size upon group processes, by comparing teams whose tasks implicitly require high levels of innovation with those whose tasks demand otherwise. The article describes a study conducted in Portugal comparing the influence of these “inputs” (size and
Requests for reprints should be addressed to R.H. Forrester, Organisational Studies, Aston Business School, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham, B4 7ET, UK. Email: [email protected]
© 2001 Psychology Press Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/pp/1359432X.html DOI: 10.1080/13594320143000627
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task type) upon group processes (including clarity of and commitment to team objectives, participation, emphasis on quality, and support for innovation), in a sample of teams across diverse workplace settings. As we begin the twenty-first century teams are increasingly identified as the functional unit of organizations, partly in response to the challenges of new forms of organization and volatile environments (Guzzo, 1996). As organizations become more ceomplex and the need for laterality increases, teams are being deployed as the favoured structural solution. The requirement to develop products and services quickly and to respond promptly and personally to customer needs also favours the adoption of teamwork. Teams enable organizational learning, cross-functional communication and more effective quality management (Mohrman, Cohen, & Mohrman, 1995). Moreover teamwork is associated with the high levels of innovation and adaptability that organizations of the future require (West, Borrill, & Unsworth, 1998). A number of studies have suggested that group processes such as clarifying team objectives, and increasing levels of participation, emphasis on quality, and support for innovation predict levels and quality of team innovation (Agrell & Gustafson,1994; Bunce & West, 1995; Burningham & West, 1995; Carter & West, 1998; West & Anderson, 1996). For example, West and Anderson (1996) found that these team processes predicted the number of innovations introduced by the top management teams of 27 UK hospitals over a 6-month period. Support for innovation in these teams was a particularly good predictor of innovation. Although these relationships are well-established, there is little understanding of the factors which, in turn, predict these group processes. Framed within an input– process–output model of team effectiveness (Hackman & Morris, 1975), this question can be asked as “what input factors predict or influence the team processes which, in turn, predict team innovation? ” The study described in this article addresses, in part, this question by exploring the relationships between two key input variables—team size and team task—and innovation-related group processes. The study also examines the interaction between team task and team size in predicting group processes.
TEAM PROCESSES PREDICTING INNOVATION
The most consistently important factor in determining group effectiveness is the existence of group goals or objectives (Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Pritchard, Jones, Roth, Stuebing, & Ekeberg, 1988). The clarity or specificity of goals has also been shown to predict group performance outcomes (Weldon & Weingart, 1993). In order to combine efforts effectively, group members have to understand collectively what it is they are trying to achieve. Much research also indicates that involvement in goal-setting fosters commitment to those goals (Latham & Yukl, 1975; Locke, 1968; Maier, 1963; Vroom & Yetton, 1973) and consequently better group performance (Weldon & Weingart, 1993). In the context of group
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innovation, clarity of team objectives is likely to facilitate innovation by enabling focused development of new ideas, which can be assessed with greater precision than if team objectives are unclear. If team objectives are to facilitate innovation, team members must also be committed to the goals of the team in order to sustain implementation in the face of resistance. A second factor of central theoretical and empirical concern in the study of group performance is the notion of participation. Research on participation in decision making has a long history in both social and industrial/organizational psychology, revealing that participation tends to foster greater effectiveness and commitment (Bowers & Seashore, 1966; Coch & French, 1948; Heller, Pusic, Strauss, & Wilpert, 1998; Lawler & Hackman, 1969). To the extent that information and influence over decision making are shared within teams and there is a high level of interaction amongst team members, the cross-fertilization of perspectives which can spawn creativity and innovation (Cowan, 1986; Mumford & Gustafson, 1988; Pearce & Ravlin, 1987; Porac & Howard, 1990) is more likely to occur. In Europe, schemes to increase participation have resulted in higher levels of innovation among industrial workers (Duell & Frei, 1986; Fricke, 1975). Another theme in the innovation and creativity literatures is that divergent thinking and the management of competing perspectives are important processes in the generation of creativity (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988). Such processes are characteristic of task-related team conflict and controversy. They can arise from a shared concern with excellence of quality of task performance in relation to shared objectives—what has been termed “task orientation” (West, 1990). Emphasis on quality may be evidenced by appraisal of, and constructive challenges to, the group’s objectives, strategies, processes, and performance, and by concern with high standards of performance. Research described in the literature on innovation not surprisingly, but no less importantly , suggests that innovation is more likely to occur in contexts (be they organizational or group) where there is support for innovation, or where innovative attempts are rewarded rather than punished (Amabile, 1983; Kanter, 1983). Support for innovation is defined as the expectation, approval, and practical support of attempts to introduce new and improved ways of doing things in the work environment (West, 1990). Within groups, new ideas may be routinely rejected or ignored, or they may find both verbal and enacted support. A wealth of social psychological and organizational research suggests that such group processes have a powerful influence in shaping individual behaviour (for reviews see, e.g., Hackman, 1992). West and Anderson (1996) demonstrated the importance of these four group processes as predictors of innovation in top management teams (clear objectives, and high levels of participation, emphasis on quality and support for innovation). However, one important element of the input–process–output framework they used to guide their research (see Figure 1) has been subject to little empirical
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Size Task type Industry sector
Group Processes Clarity of and commitment to objectives Participation Emphasis on quality Support for innovation
Outputs Innovation: — Radicalness — Magnitude — Novelty — Effectiveness
Figure 1. An input–process–output model of team innovation (adapted from West & Anderson, 1996).
examination. There has been little research undertaken to examine the relationship between group inputs and group processes. Thus, although we have some understanding of the strength of the relationship between group processes and innovation outcomes, we have a very little understanding of what factors influence group processes. A particularly big gap is in our understanding of how the characteristics of the task affect group processes.
TEAM TASK TYPE AND INNOVATION-RELATED GROUP PROCESSES
Laboratory studies have suggested that task type affects productivity and satisfaction (Tschan & von Cranach, 1996). People performing complex tasks in these studies were more satisfied and performed more efficiently than those who performed simple tasks. In workplace studies, Kent and McGrath (1969) found that group performance in the workplace was strongly affected by task type. The characteristics of the task accounted for more than 80% of the variance in group performance , compared with less than 5% accounted for by group characteristics. At the individual level of analysis, the job characteristics model offers a theoretical explanation for how task characteristics influence motivation, satisfaction, and performance (for a review see, e.g., Spector, 1997). At the group level research in the area has been hampered by the difficulty of operationalizing task characteristics in a way that is sensible and useful in workplace settings. In the research described here we chose to simply distinguish between team tasks that required high levels of innovation, and those that did not. By distinguishing between tasks in this simple and holistic way, we reasoned we would be able to easily categorize teams’ tasks, and therefore determine the relationship between
TEAM TASK, SIZE, AND INNOVATIVE PROCESSES
task type and group processes. We hypothesized that teams whose tasks required high levels of innovation would report high levels of the group processes that predict innovation (as measured by the TCI). In other words task predicts processes which in turn predict outcomes. This is not tautologous. Tasks with a high requirement for innovation will demand that teams employ processes which predict innovation outcomes. Variation in those processes will, in turn, predict the extent to which a team is then innovative. In other words, teams whose tasks partially or totally consist of the intentional introduction and application of new ideas, processes, products, or procedures, designed to significantly benefit the organization or the team, will have to have specific group processes which in turn predict successful innovation outcomes. H1 Team tasks with a high requirement for innovation will be associated with high levels of clarity of and commitment to team objectives; and high levels of participation , emphasis on quality and support for innovation.
TEAM SIZE AND INNOVATION-RELATED GROUP PROCESSES
Another important input for teams, neglected in research on team innovation, in is the team size or number of team members. Writers on team size suggest that teams are most effective when they have sufficient, but not greater than sufficient, numbers of members to perform the group task (Guzzo, 1988; Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Hackman, 1990). Little research, however, has been conducted which substantiates this suggestion. Some research on group structure implies a curvilinear relationship between group size and innovation. Very small teams (2 or 3 people), it is argued, will lack the diversity of viewpoints and perspectives necessary for innovation (Jackson, 1996), whereas large teams (above 12 or 13) will become too unwieldy to enable effective interaction, exchange, and participation (Poulton, 1995). Poulton and West (1999) showed that larger team size is associated with poor work group processes, i.e., less clear objectives, and lower levels of participation, emphasis on quality, and support for innovation. However, this research was conducted in the context of primary health care, and the teams studied were very similar in relation to their tasks and structures. In the research described later teams varied in relation to tasks, industry, and organizational contexts, and functional backgrounds of team members. We reasoned that the heterogeneous sample in the study would provide a good opportunity to determine the relationship between team size and team processes. Much research in social psychology, such as the seminal work of Steiner (1972) on process losses, implies that, as groups increase in size, the potential for group process losses increases. Steiner suggested that a group’s actual performance is a function of potential performance and process losses, due to
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factors such as social loafing, poor decision making, conformity, etc. (Asch, 1956; Hall & Watson, 1971; Latané, Williams, & Harkins, 1979). As group size increases, the difficulties of agreeing objectives, ensuring appropriate participation in decision making, achieving consensus on what constitutes high quality, and eliciting unanimous support for innovation, all increase. We hypothesized that larger teams would put more strain on team processes and therefore make them less effective. H2 Large teams will have less clear objectives, lower levels of participation, lower emphasis on quality, and lower support for innovation, than smaller team What of the relationship between team size and team task in predicting innovation-related group processes? 1 Thus far we have argued that the requirement to innovate will demand of groups or teams that they develop effective group processes. Innovation is a process characterized by conflict as a team seeks to have its ideas, products, services, or processes adapted within (usually resistant) organizations. Minority influence theory (Nemeth & Owens, 1996) suggests that a well-functioning, integrated group will be more successful in innovating than a less well-integrated group. But previous research and theory suggest that increasing group size will hinder effective integration since there will be more team members who have to reach agreement on team objectives, more who will seek to influence decision-making, and more who will debate quality of task issues. Because tasks demanding high innovation pose high demands on team members (such as maintaining unity in the face of external conflict and resistance, and managing the uncertainty associated with innovation) we propose that team size will deleteriously affect innovation-related group processes under task conditions that require high, but not low, levels of innovation. H3 Task size will be negatively associated with innovation-related group processes under task conditions requiring high, but not low, levels of innovation.
The sixteen organizations from which the teams were selected, came from four industrial sectors from the Lisbon area of Portugal: advertising, pharmaceuticals, health, and miscellaneous. The miscellaneous group consisted of a diverse range of organizations including banking, manufacturing, information technology, and 1We are very grateful to the anonymous reviewer of this paper who drew our attention to this question.
TEAM TASK, SIZE, AND INNOVATIVE PROCESSES
research. Details of the distribution of the teams across these sectors are shown in Table 1. The sample consisted of 398 members of 87 teams. Teams ranged in size from two to eighteen members, with an average of five. All of the teams had been formed for at least 6 months prior to data collection.
In each organization interviews were held with senior management in order to identify existing teams involved in product or service innovation within the organization. Team members, supervisors, and their department mangers were invited to participate in the study and, following their agreement, supervisors, or managers were interviewed about the size of the teams and the type of tasks they performed. Team supervisors or department managers agreed to explain the aims of the study to team members and to distribute and collect questionnaires measuring innovation-related team processes. Team members were asked to complete these questionnaires and return them in a sealed envelope to their supervisors. Respondents were assured of anonymity with teams being identified only by a number on the questionnaire. Questionnaire completion occurred during the respondents’ work time, which helped to produce a response rate across the 87 teams of 57%.
In accordance with the dominant model of team performance data were collected relating to the teams’ inputs and processes (see Figure 1).
Data were gathered from the supervisors or department manager about the size and type of team. Team type involved a classification according to the frequency with which managers reported they were required to innovate. The supervisor or department manager assessed teams’ innovative performance requirements. A scale was devised to assess the level of innovation required from teams in their TABLE 1 Characteristics of the teams Sector Advertising Pharmaceuticals Health Miscellaneous Total
Number of organizations
Number of teams
7 2 2 5 16
26 17 12 32 87
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organizational context. The scale included nine items with managers asked to rate the teams’ innovation requirements on 5-point scales. Teams were classified into high and moderate innovation requirements on the basis of whether they scored above (n = 45) or below the mean (n = 42). This dichotomous variable was created because there was a clear bimodal distribution rather than a normal distribution. In effect the categorization distinguished between teams whose major task involved developing new and improved products or services or create new things (West, 1990) and teams for which innovation was not a significant component of their task.
Group processes were assessed using the Team Climate Inventory (TCI: Anderson & West, 1998). The TCI was first translated and then back translated from Portuguese into English to check for retention of the semantic content of the original, following accepted procedures. The TCI consists of 38 items related to four domains of group processes: team members’ perceptions of the clarity of and their commitment to the team’s objectives; levels of participation within the team; support for innovation; and emphasis on quality. The clarity of objectives scale includes 11 items (Cronbach’s alpha = .88) and refers to the perceived goal value and the extent that objectives are clear to, attainable and shared by the team members. Examples of items include “How clear are you about what your team’s objectives are?” and “To what extent do you think they are useful and appropriate objectives?” The participation scale contains 12 items (Cronbach’s alpha = .86) and focuses on respondents’ perceptions of the level of information sharing, interaction frequency, participation in decision making, and influence in the team. Examples of items in this scale include “We have a ‘we are in it together’ attitude” and “We share information generally in the team rather than keeping it to ourselves ”. The support for innovation scale has 8 items (Cronbach’s alpha = .86) that explore the levels of enacted and articulated support provided for team members’ ideas for new and improved ways of doing things. Examples of typical questions include “this team is always moving toward the development of new answers” and “Team members provide practical support for new ideas and their application ”. Finally, emphasis on quality which has seven items (Cronbach’s alpha = .86) considers the extent to which team members perceive there is concern for excellence, there are high standards of task performance, critical appraisal, and quality within the team. Typical items in this scale include “Does the team critically appraise potential weaknesses in what it is doing in order to achieve the best possible outcome? ” and “Are team members prepared to question the basis
TEAM TASK, SIZE, AND INNOVATIVE PROCESSES
of what the team is doing? ” Respondents are asked to indicate on a 5-point scale the degree to which they agree with each item as a description of their team. There are considerable data available indicating the reliability and validity of this measure (Anderson & West, 1998).
398 members of 87 teams responded to the questionnaire survey representing a response rate of 57%. A mean team climate was calculated for each team in order to produce team-level process data. Consensus of results was checked using James, Demarée, and Wolf’s (1984) RWGJ measure. The values are reported in Table 2. Missing data were managed using the pairwise deletion procedure. The means and standard deviations of the team process variables and team sizes for the whole sample, and for each task type and each industrial sector, are shown in Table 2. All teams in the advertising industry were of the “highly innovative ” type. The other three industries, however, included teams of both task types. Chi-squared tests showed that there were significant differences between the distributions of team types in the advertising industry and all other sectors. There were no significant differences between the distributions across any other pair of sectors. Teams with a high requirement to innovate tended to be smaller than teams with a moderate innovation requirement. One-way analysis of variance was used to determine differences between types of team and between sectors. Teams in the advertising industry had significantly higher participation, emphasis on quality and mean TCI scores than teams in the “other” sector, as well as significantly higher emphasis on quality, scores than teams in the mental health sector. They were also significantly smaller than all other types of team. The results showed that teams with a high innovation task requirement had significantly higher scores on the measures of participation and support for innovation, partially confirming hypothesis 1. Correlations between the team process variables and team size, for the whole sample and for each task type, are shown in Table 3. As would be expected, all team process variables were highly intercorrelated. Taking the sample as a whole, all team processes were negatively correlated with team size (ranging from –.22 to –.33), a finding that supports hypothesis 2. For teams with high requirements to innovate there was a negative correlation between team size and team processes. This finding supports hypothesis 3. Hierarchical regression analysis was used to explore these relationships further. The four team process variables were included as dependent variables; and team size, industrial sector, and task type (the latter two using dummy variables) were entered as independent variables, along with the interaction term between task type and team size. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 4. After controlling for team size, industrial sector did not explain a significant
Overall By task type: Highly innovative Moderately innovative By industry: Advertising Mental health Pharmaceutical Miscellaneous RWG(j)
196 3.82 (0.42) 3.98 (0.44) 3.64 (0.30) 3.94 (0.52) 3.73 (0.32) 3.88 (0.33) 3.73 (0.37) 0.92 (0.17)
4.13 (0.46) 3.77 (0.35)
4.19 (0.51) 3.90 (0.32) 3.84 (0.33) 3.84 (0.42) 0.94 (0.13)
3.98 (0.44) 3.87 (0.31) 4.01 (0.30) 3.87 (0.40) 0.94 (0.11)
4.02 (0.39) 3.83 (0.36)
4.36 (0.51) 3.92 (0.36) 4.09 (0.33) 3.76 (0.41) 0.89 (0.16)
4.20 (0.48) 3.82 (0.42)
TABLE 2 Descriptive statistics and consensus: Mean (standard deviation)
4.12 (0.44) 3.86 (0.29) 3.95 (0.25) 3.80 (0.33) 0.96 (0.15)
4.08 (0.38) 3.77 (0.28)
2.69 (0.88) 6.92 (4.54) 4.87 (2.59) 5.00 (0.91) —
3.47 (1.79) 5.71 (3.02)
196 CURRAL ET AL.
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TABLE 3 Correlations between TCI variables and team size, for all teams, and for each task type 1 All teams (n = 87): 1. Participation 2. Support for innovation 3. Clarity of objectives 4. Emphasis on quality 5. TCI: mean 6. Size of team
1.00 0.80*** 0.50*** 0.71*** 0.89*** 0.30**
1.00 0.62*** 0.67*** 0.90*** 0.29**
1.00 0.55*** 0.76*** 0.22*
1.00 0.87*** 0.32**
Highly innovative teams only (n = 45): 1. Participation 1.00 2. Support for innovation 0.74*** 3. Clarity of objectives 0.48*** 4. Emphasis on quality 0.73*** 5. TCI: mean 0.87*** 6. Size of team –0.21
1.00 0.74*** 0.68*** 0.91*** –0.26
1.00 0.60*** 0.80*** –0.18
1.00 0.88*** –0.51***
Moderately innovative teams only (n = 42): 1. Participation 1.00 2. Support for innovation 0.80*** 1.00 3. Clarity of objectives 0.42** 0.35* 4. Emphasis on quality 0.53*** 0.49*** 5. TCI: mean 0.86*** 0.81*** 6. Size of team –0.14 –0.06
1.00 0.38* 0.69*** –0.11
1.00 0.79*** 0.02
*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.
amount of variance in any of the process variables except for emphasis on quality, where a highly significant 18.7% was explained. Team size explained a significant amount of variance in all four TCI variables as well as the TCI mean (11.1% in the latter case) confirming hypothesis 2. Consistent with hypothesis 1, task type (highly innovative versus moderately innovative) explained a significant amount of variance in participation, support for innovation and in the overall TCI mean (though not in relation to clarity of objectives and emphasis of quality). There were significant interactions between team size and innovation requirements, such that larger teams operating under a greater pressure to innovate showed relatively low levels of support for innovation and low emphasis on quality. These interactions accounted for 7.8% and 5.4% of the variance respectively. Thus confirming hypothesis 3. Team size was associated with poor team processes, under conditions of high, but not low, innovation requirements.
8.9%** 6.5% 4.9%*
8.9% 15.3% 20.2%
*p < 0.05; ** < p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.
Team size Industrial sector Task type Interaction Sector and task Size and task
8.4% 10.4% 20.5%
8.4%** 2.0% 10.1%**
Support for innovation
4.8% 6.3% 9.7%
4.8%** 1.6% 3.4%
Clarity of objectives
10.3% 29.0% 29.3%
10.3%** 18.7%*** 0.3%
Emphasis on quality
TABLE 4 Hierarchical regression analyses of team processes on size, sector, and task type
11.1% 17.7% 22.6%
11.1%** 6.7% 4.8%*
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This research set out to test the relationships between team inputs and processes in a large field study of teams (n = 87) across diverse organizational settings. The results showed that group inputs, in particular task type and size, had significant relationships with group processes. The findings partially supported the first hypothesis by indicating that teams with a high requirement for innovation had higher levels of participation and support for innovation than teams with a moderate requirement for innovation. However, task type predicted neither clarity of objectives, nor emphasis on quality in teams. The findings also supported the second hypothesis with larger teams reporting poorer team processes than smaller teams. However this effect was more complex when the data were analysed to examine the interaction between team size and task type, and the effect of this interaction on team processes. Team size was a negative predictor of group processes, but only under conditions of a high, rather than a low, requirement to innovate, confirming hypothesis 3. Those teams carrying out tasks that required high levels of innovation reported processes that were significantly different from those undertaking moderately innovative tasks. Task type (moderate versus high innovation requirements) emerged as a strong predictor of team participation and support for innovation, accounting for 4.9% and 10.1% of the variance respectively. The results suggest that the processes of teams involved in innovative tasks include more information sharing, frequent interaction, distributed influence over decision making, and articulated and enacted support for innovation than in other teams. Clearly, task type appears to be a powerful influence on team processes, suggesting that researchers in the future should seek to understand more fully the influence of task type, in field settings, upon team processes, and, thereby, upon team outcomes. Hierarchical regression analyses, however, did not indicate any significant relationship between innovation requirements and clarity of and commitment to team objectives and quality emphasis of these teams. Therefore, only partial confirmation is provided for hypothesis 1. One explanation of this is that the requirement for clear objectives and quality emphasis are likely to be common across most teams, regardless of the task demands of innovation. However, teams that are specifically required to innovate are much more likely than others to need to exchange information, knowledge, and suggestions to enable creative ideas to be developed and implemented. Moreover, since innovation is an explicit requirement of their task, support for innovation is a likely imperative. Team size emerged as a significant predictor of all aspects of team processes, accounting for between 10.3% and 4.8% of the variance. This corroborates earlier laboratory work (e.g., Steiner, 1972) that suggested that large teams experience higher levels of process losses. The findings also corroborate and extend Poulton and West’s (1999) field-study of primary health teams which
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suggested that there are poorer team processes in large teams. The present study included team members from a large variety of functional backgrounds and teams involved in a wide range of tasks, across a number of different industries and organizational contexts, extending the contextual validity of their conclusions. But the study also indicated the likely limitation of this effect to teams whose tasks have a high requirement to innovate (at least within the range of team sizes observed in this study). Why do members of smaller teams perceive team processes as more positive than do members of larger teams (particularly where the latter have a high requirement to innovate)? Social psychological research on team processes suggests a number of explanations in terms of social loafing, communication difficulties , dysfunctional decision making, and other process losses (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; West, 1995). In the context of this study, we speculate that larger teams—especially those with a high requirement to innovate—have difficulty in achieving agreement about shared objectives. Variation in values, motives, experiences , and attitudes will mitigate against agreement. Moreover, the more people there are in the team, the more effort must be made to enable participation—which involves interaction, ensuring distributed influence over decision making, and information sharing amongst all members of the team. As more people challenge existing practices and promote controversy, fault lines in the team widen (Earley & Mosakowski, 2000), and task conflict may metamorphose into interpersonal conflict (De Dreu, Harinck, & Van Vianen, 1999). Winning support for innovation (which is likely to provoke resistance under most circumstances—Drazin & Schoonhoven, 1996) is likely to be much more difficult where there are simply more people to convince of the value of the innovation. Another explanation for the question “Why do members of smaller teams perceive team processes as more positive than do members of larger teams (particularly where the latter have a high requirement to innovate)? ” may be related to the higher pressure for conformity that pervade larger groups, which tend to reduce controversy, information sharing, frequency of interaction, and distributed influence over decision making, especially in complex tasks (Nemeth & Owens, 1996; Nemeth & Staw, 1989). Understanding the factors that influence team innovation therefore requires that we carefully consider the tradeoff between the benefits of additional team members (such as greater resources of knowledge, expertise, skills, and power), and the disadvantages (such as process losses). In examining the impact of organizational context on team processes, industrial sector emerged as the principle predictor of emphasis on quality, accounting for 18.7% of the variance. Advertising teams were found to have significantly higher emphasis on quality than other teams. This is not simply an effect of team size because there was no three-way interaction between size, task type, and sector. The emphasis in previous research has primarily been on the relationship between group heterogeneity and group processes. Almost no field
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research had been conducted examining the influence of sector and task type. Similarly, the influence of team size on processes has been overlooked in most field studies of innovation. Overall, the findings revealed the importance of investigating the relationship between team inputs such as task type and size upon team processes. The results indicate the interaction between team size, innovation requirements, and group processes. We have shown that among teams with high pressures to innovate, innovation-related , group processes are endangered by group size. The research we describe here suggests the value for theoretical and practical reasons of considering further how these factors affect team functioning and, thereby, team innovation. There is much more research to be done. Our categorization of tasks into those requiring high and low levels of innovation is crude. More sophisticated representations of task are needed which have contextual validity, scientific value, and practical utility. A challenge for field researchers is to develop taxonomies of team tasks which help us to elucidate the influence of task types upon team processes and outcomes. Our research also could be extended to include other group processes such as conflict (De Dreu et al., 1999), reflexivity, (West, 1996), and constructive controversy (Tjosvold, 1998), which may well be influenced by team size. We also need to extend our research to understand at what point and how, the benefits of team size (for example, divergent views) are moderated by process losses associated with increasing team size, in teams with a high requirement to innovate. Most important is the need to discover more about the interactions between task type and size on group processes. The study we described here is limited to identifying associations. Qualitative studies with innovative designs in field settings are needed to help us reveal intervening mechanisms. An alternative explanation for our findings is that teams with clear objectives, high levels of participation, emphasis on quality, and support for innovation, create tasks for themselves that require a high level of innovation. And teams that have a high requirement to innovate and that encourage less agreeable members to leave, diminish in size and have good group processes. There are explanations that only longitudinal research can substantiate. Meanwhile they remain credible alternative explanations for our findings. Our research has clear applications. Apparently, constructing team tasks in ways that require team members to innovate leads to higher levels of participation and support for innovation in teams, both processes which previous research suggests are associated not just with innovation but also with effectiveness and team member mental health (Carter & West, 1999; Poulton & West, 1999; West & Anderson, 1996). Therefore, ensuring that teams are given tasks which require innovation may be a powerful way of ensuring that they develop team processes beneficial to their overall effectiveness. The second important applied implication of the research is that practitioners should consider
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Hackman’s (1992) proposal that team size should be the minimum necessary to get the job done, especially when the team has a high requirement to innovate. We would not be so bold, based on our findings. But our research evidence does suggest that practitioners should not simply throw new members at teams as a way of improving their innovativeness or effectiveness. Rather they should carefully consider at what point adding members will make it more rather than less, difficult for the team to achieve its goals.
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