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  • 1 KU Leuven, Belgium
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Background

Teams in organizations are increasingly employed to generate creative outcomes that could lead to the next big innovation. Previous research argues that a team's ability to generate such creative outcomes partly depends on the occurrence of certain team characteristics and processes.

Aims

The current work constructs and tests a cross-level model of team creativity and team learning. The role of within-team agreement for the emergence of several team processes is investigated.

Methods

All constructs were measured using previously validated scales. Data collected from 112 design teams (nindividuals  = 540) are analyzed using multilevel structural equation modeling.

Results and conclusion

Initial results show that psychological safety and team creative efficacy are the strongest predictors for team processes and team effectiveness. Two team-level variables assessing within-team agreement are shown to be a strong predictors for team processes and team effectiveness: when team members agree on the team’s creative capacity and the level of psychological safety, the team will experience a higher degree of effectiveness and will engage more in co-construction and facilitating processes that are the seeds for creating creative outcomes.

Abstract

Background

Teams in organizations are increasingly employed to generate creative outcomes that could lead to the next big innovation. Previous research argues that a team's ability to generate such creative outcomes partly depends on the occurrence of certain team characteristics and processes.

Aims

The current work constructs and tests a cross-level model of team creativity and team learning. The role of within-team agreement for the emergence of several team processes is investigated.

Methods

All constructs were measured using previously validated scales. Data collected from 112 design teams (nindividuals  = 540) are analyzed using multilevel structural equation modeling.

Results and conclusion

Initial results show that psychological safety and team creative efficacy are the strongest predictors for team processes and team effectiveness. Two team-level variables assessing within-team agreement are shown to be a strong predictors for team processes and team effectiveness: when team members agree on the team’s creative capacity and the level of psychological safety, the team will experience a higher degree of effectiveness and will engage more in co-construction and facilitating processes that are the seeds for creating creative outcomes.

Introduction

Confronted with a rapidly changing and competitive environment, organizations are constantly looking to produce the next big thing. Innovation can be seen as an important cornerstone for organizations reaching and sustaining a position of competitive advantage compared with competitors (Fairchild & Hunter, 2014). Considering the complexity of the problems or issues confronting the organizations, they often turn to teamwork to come up with much wanted creative outcomes that can possibly lead to a breakthrough innovation (Bissola & Imperatori, 2011; Halbesleben, Novicevic, Harvey, & Buckley, 2003; Nijstad & De Dreu, 2002). Previous research states that the nature of the interpersonal processes and characteristics that emerge in a team has an influence on a team’s creative performance (Mumford, Feldman, Hein, & Nagao, 2001). This study examines whether team learning processes (such as information exchange, co-construction, experimenting, etc.) can foster a team’s creative performance, defined as a team’s engagement in creative processes (Shin & Eom, 2014). Furthermore, the effect of both team learning and team creativity on self-assessed team effectiveness is also investigated.

Previous research comparing the creative capacity of individuals with the creative potential of teams indicated that groups can, but not always, outperform individuals in producing creative ideas (e.g., Tadmor, Satterstrom, Jang, & Polzer, 2012). Mumford et al. (2001) nuanced these findings and stated that the quality of the interpersonal processes emerging in a team should be considered. They also argued that although individuals rely on generating many ideas and select the most creative idea, teams tend to go about being creative in a different manner: the interpersonal characteristics (e.g., psychological safety) and processes (e.g., sharing behavior) within a team stimulate members to share fewer ideas in an substantiated and reasoned manner – instead of just spouting every idea that comes to mind. Processes of open discussion and collective reflection challenge the team members to further build on these shared ideas, which leads to fewer, but more creative ideas. Therefore, although individuals end up with more less creative ideas (i.e., novel and useful), teams – assuming that their interpersonal processes are qualitative – produce fewer more creative ideas.

To achieve this purpose, team members will have to share their (individual) ideas and opinions with other members of the team, to enable further discussion and elaboration of one of the ideas (Baer & Frese, 2003). Effective information exchange and co-construction processes – often investigated as team learning behaviors – are thus indispensable for a team working toward a creative output (Anderson, Potočnik, & Zhou, 2014). Furthermore, previous research also shows that certain social characteristics of a team are important for such learning and creative processes (Boon, Raes, Kyndt, & Dochy, 2013; Decuyper, Dochy, & Van den Bossche, 2010; Fairchild & Hunter, 2014) to emerge. For example, when the experienced psychological safety in a team is low, team members will engage less in open discussions, will share less ideas, information, and opinions, and will be less likely to share their crazy ideas or talk about their mistakes (Baer & Frese, 2003; Edmondson, 1999; Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006).

Another factor that has a positive effect on the emergence of learning processes in teams is team interdependence (i.e., the feeling that team members need one another for the task at hand) (De Dreu, 2007). This study focuses on the role of psychological safety and team interdependence for the emergence of team learning, team creativity, and team effectiveness.

Current Study

The main aims of this study are to investigate: (a) How do processes of learning influence team creative processes? (b) Do team creative and team learning processes foster team effectiveness? and (c) How strongly do psychological safety and team interdependence relate to processes of learning and creativity, and effectiveness in teams?

A quantitative questionnaire study was conducted. A range of validated scales for measuring team learning processes (Edmondson, 1999; Hirst & Mann, 2004; Rupert & Jehn, 2008; Savelsbergh, van der Heijden, & Poell, 2009; Van den Bossche, Gijselaers, Segers, & Kirschner, 2006), creative behaviors (George & Zhou, 2001), team effectiveness (Van den Bossche et al., 2006), psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999), and team interdependence (Van der Vegt, Emans, & Van De Vliert, 1998) was selected. As this is the first study to combine these specific scales, a range of factor analyses was performed to examine whether the supposedly measured variables were indeed underlying our data set. When performing factor analyses, the output – the actual factorial structure – differs from the expected factors (i.e., the included scales) generally. Factor analyses showed that the scales assessing team processes differ from the intended structure. For example, the eight scales included to measure team processes decomposed to five factors. The most important change is that one of these five process factors assesses a construct previously not included in our research model, namely team creative efficacy. Instead of ignoring these changes, we choose to embrace them. In general, a theoretical introduction based on the included scales (and not the outcome of the factor analyses) would lead to a Results section that discusses constructs not previously framed, defined, or explained. As team creative efficacy is a key variable in this study, a discussion on this variable is included in this article in the Theoretical Background section.

Theoretical Background

Team effectiveness

In line with the previous research (e.g., Boon et al., 2013; Edmondson, 1999; Van den Bossche et al., 2006), team effectiveness is defined in the broad sense, comprising not only team performance but also team viability and team learning outcomes. Team viability concerns team members’ satisfaction with the team: it covers the willingness to work with this team again in the future, whereas team performance concerns to the product and process toward the product the team created. Next to performance and viability, team learning outcomes is considered to be the third important aspect in team effectiveness, indicating that team learning is also considered to be an output, for example, the knowledge constructed through the processes of team learning.

Team creative processes

Team creativity has mainly been investigated as an outcome variable (Anderson et al., 2014). Researchers have extensively focused on the outcome of new and useful ideas and products in teams. Lately, however, scholars showed more interest in the interpersonal processes that are drivers for creative outcomes. These team creative processes can be defined as a team’s “engagement in creative acts, regardless of whether the resultant outcomes are novel, useful or creative” (Drazin, Glynn, & Kazanjian, 1999, p. 287). Creative processes are then a necessary but insufficient prerequisite for producing creative outcomes; they describe the team’s path toward possibly producing novel and useful outcomes (Gilson & Shalley, 2004).

Team creative processes are not only the first step towards creative outcomes, they are also hypothesized to be positively related to overall team effectiveness and performance (Gilson, Mathieu, Shalley, & Ruddy, 2005; Yoon, Song, Lim, & Joo, 2010). Furthermore, creative processes can deliver the necessary input for team, departmental, or organizational innovation: the products of team creative processes can deliver novel and useful ideas or products can be further developed and implemented. As the current market situation is a very competitive and volatile, innovation and creativity gain importance and seek attention. The ability to be creative and to engage in creative processes could very well become a crucial factor for individual, team, and/or organizational success (Gilson et al., 2005; Gilson & Shalley, 2004).

H1: Team creative processes will be positively related to team effectiveness

Team learning processes

Team learning is often described as a key for organizational learning and the innovative capacity of an organization, both needed for rapidly changing society (Ellis, Porter, & Wolverton, 2008; Senge, 1990; Sessa & London, 2008). Decuyper et al. (2010) defined the team learning processes as “a compilation of team-level processes that circularly generate change or improvement for teams, team members, organisations, etc.” (Decuyper et al., 2010, p. 128) and discerned two types of learning processes: basic learning processes that spark change in teams and facilitating learning processes that determine the direction of this change.

Basic team learning processes

Basic team learning processes covers basic communication patterns within the teams. Decuyper et al. (2010) defined the following three basic team learning processes: sharing, co-construction, and constructive conflict. Sharing occurs when a team member shares information within the team, and other team members actively listen and interpret this information (de Vries, van den Hooff, & de Ridder, 2006; Mesmer-Magnus & Dechurch, 2009). When team members build further on this shared information, co-construction can occur (Decuyper et al., 2010; Van den Bossche et al., 2006). During a process of (back-and-forth) information exchange, teams can be confronted with conflicting opinions. Constructive conflict entails the team discussing the diversity expressed. Through elaborate communication, the discussion ends into a kind of temporary agreement among the team members. Only when this agreement is reached, it can be called a constructive conflict (Gibson, Cooper, & Conger, 2009; Tjosvold & Yu, 2007). Co-construction and constructive conflict can be seen as processes of collective knowledge creation: new insights, ideas, or understandings are collectively constructed. Together, these three basic team learning behaviors determine the power of a team’s learning.

Previous research has shown that the emergence of these basic team learning behaviors leads to the development of mutually shared cognition and to the enhancement of team effectiveness (Boon et al., 2013; Van den Bossche et al., 2006; Veestraeten, Kyndt, & Dochy, 2014).

H2a: Basic team learning processes will be positively related to team effectiveness

Facilitating team learning processes

Next to basic team learning processes, Decuyper et al. (2010) pointed the importance of a team engaging in facilitating learning processes. Although the basic team learning processes lead to a change of some kind, these facilitating processes (team activity, boundary crossing, and reflexivity) can lead to improvement. They determine the direction of the change that emerges within the team. When developing an idea or product, it is very important to experiment in between (e.g., by testing the developed prototypes) to check whether the work is going in the right direction (Shin, Kim, Lee, & Bian, 2012). This process of developing, experimenting, testing, and trial and error is called team experimenting (Decuyper et al., 2010; Savelsbergh et al., 2009). Decuyper et al. (2010) stated that not only while experimenting but also while working on the task by mobilizing resources and working together, making plans, etc., teams can “learn by doing”. This broader collection of processes is called team activity, which typically leads to a higher amount of efficiency and coordination within the team (Decuyper et al., 2010; McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000).

When a team, for example, test-drives a prototype, the outcomes of the experiment is generally evaluated: Are we on the right track with this prototype? Is this an idea to further develop? and How can we solve this specific shortcoming? These typical questions pertain to a reflexive process. Team reflexivity is often considered as indispensable for team success (Carter & West, 1998; Schippers, Edmondson, & West, 2006; Tjosvold, Tang, & West, 2004). Reflexivity is about questioning the current team reality (pertaining to the task or the interpersonal process) and questioning, re-evaluating, and discussing the team goals and the way to achieve these goals.

Teams can, of course, not be seen as entities working in isolation. Every team is embedded in a specific context (e.g., organization, culture, nation, multiteam system) and has to act accordingly. Teams can utilize this nestedness by crossing the team boundaries and looking for information, feedback, etc., outside of the team (e.g., customers, colleagues). Research shows that boundary crossing is positively related to team effectiveness (Hirst & Mann, 2004).

H2b: Facilitating team learning processes will be positively related to team effectiveness

Team psychological safety

Psychological safety is one of the most investigated variables when it comes to the interpersonal characteristics of a team. Edmondson (1999) defined it as the team members’ shared belief that the team is a safe context for interpersonal risk-taking. It is the belief that team members will not reject or punish other team members for sharing information, making a mistake, or taking a risk. Research has shown that a lower psychological safety in teams relates to more (destructive) conflict and less effective communication (Edmondson, 1999; Van den Bossche et al., 2006; Veestraeten et al., 2014). Furthermore, psychological safety is an important factor for team learning and creative processes to emerge, as team members in a psychologically safe team feel less anxiety about negative judgment (Kessel, Kratzer, & Schultz, 2012; West & Anderson, 1996).

Edmondson (2012) in her book discussed the benefits of psychological safety for teams. One such benefit mentioned – next to, e.g., people feeling able to speak up or providing a base for constructive conflict – is that it promotes innovation. Team members who experience high psychological safety will feel less fear to open up and promote the novel ideas that are detrimental to develop creative or innovative products (Edmondson, 2012).

Although most research on psychological safety and team effectiveness investigates a relation mediated by team processes, there is evidence (see, e.g., Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006; Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, & Gilson, 2008) to hypothesize that this is a partial mediation, that is, next to the indirect effect, psychological safety also directly relates to team effectiveness.

H3a: Psychological safety will be positively related to all included team processes

H3b: Psychological safety will be positively related to team effectiveness

Team interdependence

Team interdependence is one of the key characteristics of a team (Salas, Burke, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Vangrieken, Dochy, Raes, and Kyndt (2013) described a continuum ranging from “group” to “team” and considered interdependence as one of the dimensions that shape this continuum. Team interdependence can be described as the degree to which team members are interdependent to perform the task at hand. Generally, two types of interdependence are defined: task interdependence and outcome interdependence (Wageman, 1995). In a team with high task interdependence, members need to rely on each other to successfully accomplish the task. When attaining the team goals influences the outcomes for individual team members (e.g., team members get an individual bonus for reaching the team goals), this is a condition for outcome interdependence (Van Der Vegt et al., 1998).

Positive interdependence motivates team members a reason to commit to the team and engage in team processes, such as information sharing and discussing, as they themselves can benefit from doing so. Working individually is less of an option and would be detrimental not only for the team but also for the individual.

Therefore, the perception of team interdependence by individual team members is an important factor to consider: if team members do not feel that they need each other, they might withdraw from the team and stop sharing their ideas, concerns, opinions, etc. Furthermore, team interdependence generally is positively related to the emergence of interpersonal processes, team effectiveness, and team creativity (De Dreu, 2007; Hon & Chan, 2012; Van Der Vegt et al., 1998).

H4a: Team interdependence will be positively related to all included team processes

H4b: Team interdependence will be positively related to team effectiveness

Team creative efficacy

The concept of team creative efficacy is based on and closely related to a research construct with a longer history, namely self-efficacy. Self-efficacy can be defined as an individual’s belief in his/her capabilities to achieve his/her goal or reach a certain level of performance (Bandura, 1993; van Dinther, Dochy, & Segers, 2011). Self-efficacy is predictive for both individual performance (Bandura, 1993; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998) and learning (van Dinther et al., 2011). Given the importance of self-efficacy for individual effectiveness, researchers have proposed parallel constructs for teams (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006): team efficacy. Team efficacy is defined as “a shared belief in a group’s collective capability to organize and execute courses of action required to produce given levels of goal attainment” (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).

Briefly, creative self-efficacy pertains to an individual’s belief in his/her own ability to be creative, to produce new and useful ideas (Richter, Hirst, van Knippenberg, & Baer, 2012). Team creative efficacy then is the team members’ shared belief in the team’s capabilities to be creative. Previous research has shown that the team creative efficacy is related not only to the emergence of interpersonal processes but also to the team creative performance (Baer, Oldham, Jacobsohn, & Hollingshead, 2008; Shin & Eom, 2014). As with team interdependence, the effect of team creative efficacy on team processes has to do with motivational processes: if team members believe that they can be creative, they tend to put forth more effort to show they can indeed be creative (Shin & Eom, 2014).

H5a: Team creative efficacy will be positively related to all included team processes

H5b: Team creative efficacy will be positively related to team effectiveness

Types of teams

The difference between a “group” and a “team” is made by considering many factors into account. In this study, a team is defined by the following five characteristics proposed by Vangrieken, Dochy, and Raes (2016): “(1) being an intact social entity (seeing themselves and being seen by others as an intact social entity rather than a loose collection of individuals; a coherent grouping that can clearly be delineated from the outside world, clear boundaries and clarity about who belongs to the group and who does not), (2) task and (3) social cohesion and (4) task and (5) outcome interdependence.” (Vangrieken et al., 2016, p. 6).

To decrease the amount of “noise” in data, this study focused on a specific type of teams. Team type was proven to have an influence on both processes as outcomes of teamwork (Devine, Clayton, Philips, Dunford, & Melner, 1999; Wildman et al., 2011). Therefore, this study narrowed its focus to “design teams”, as defined by Devine (2002). A design team is a time-limited team composed for a specific task. After completion of this task, the team decomposes. Members of this team are selected based on their specific expertise and knowledge concerning the task and they mostly meet face-to-face. Devine described the typical task a design team works on as having no clear, right-or-wrong solution, involving an aspect of creativity and/or innovation. The performance of the design team on the task is subjective and particularly depends on the judgment of an internal or external client (Devine, 2002). The relevance of studying design teams stems not only from their engagement in creative work but also from the economic circumstances that pressure organizations to be innovative and responsive to a rapidly changing environment. In this situation, the use of stable, long-term teams with predefined tasks and goals in organizations is no longer best fitted to the situation.

Within-team agreement

The research setup in this study has a multilevel structure: individual respondents are all nested in a team. Although all measures were collected from individual employees, this nestedness provides interesting information to consider. In previous multilevel studies (e.g., Boon et al., 2013), an overall within-group agreement score was included as a research variable that reflects the agreement among team members about certain aspects of their team. In this study, we focus on team members’ agreement on perceptions of psychological safety and team creative efficacy as the perceptions of these beliefs are most personal. It is possible that although several team members feel safe in the team, others would judge the climate to be unsafe. An individual team member’s score on psychological safety, for example, concerns a very personal and individual judgment of the team’s interpersonal climate, while an individual’s estimation of the occurrence of, for example, sharing behavior is based on experienced interactions with other team members. We believe that the team members’ perception of team processes will automatically be more similar, as this reflects the perception of group phenomenon that is more or less observable. The within-group agreement on the presence of team beliefs on the other hand should be seen as the degree to which all individual team members feel the same way about their team.

The notion of a shared perception of the team’s climate or interpersonal atmosphere comes very close to other widely investigated team constructs, such as shared mental models (SMMs), team situation awareness, or transactive memory systems. What these concepts have in common is that they describe a team having some sort of shared, organized knowledge structure that contains knowledge about certain aspects of the team (e.g., the task, the technology they are working on). As Mathieu et al. stated, the knowledge stored in this structure can also pertain to the team itself and the team’s way of interacting (Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Research on, for example, SMMs of teams has described two important aspects of these knowledge structures: the degree to which they are shared among team members (i.e., every team member has access to this knowledge) and the degree to which the knowledge within the system is accurate (i.e., the stored knowledge is correct) (Mathieu et al., 2000).

In this study, we consider the within-group agreement (Rwg) values for the two investigated beliefs as a measure of the sharedness of team members’ perception of the interpersonal climate. In other words, it is considered as the degree to which the team has developed a SMM of its interpersonal climate.

Previous research has shown that this sharedness or convergence of mental models positively relates to the emergence of team processes and team performance (Lim & Klein, 2006; Mathieu et al., 2000). Here, we will investigate whether the sharedness of the team’s mental model about psychological safety (SMMPS) and the convergence of the mental model on team creative efficacy (SMMTCE) will show the same results pertaining to the emergence of team processes and performance.

H6a: SMMPS will be positively related to all included team processes

H6b: SMMPS will be positively related to team effectiveness

H7a: SMMTCE will be positively related to all included team processes

H7b: SMMTCE will be positively related to team effectiveness

Methods

Sample

Around 150 design teams were contacted for data collection. The approached teams were selected based on the following criteria to determine whether they were an actual design team: a group of people that consists of three or more members (between 18 and 65 years old), which operates around professional activities with a clear goal or task, can be seen as a team when members and non-members see this group of people as a social entity (Boon et al., 2013). Furthermore, we allowed teams to exist across organizations (consist of members from different organizations); teams working on a task that is not core to their job (e.g., a team of teachers volunteering to organize the yearly school party or a team of researchers taking up the redecoration of an office) were excluded from this study. To determine on beforehand whether a team was appropriate for this study (i.e., fulfilled the aforementioned criteria), one member of the team was asked to answer a few general (e.g., team size, team age) and more specific questions about his/her team, such as “What is the main task of your team?” “Why can this task be described as unique, and is this a finite collaboration?” or “Would you say that creativity is necessary in your team’s working together? In what way; why?” On the basis of his/her answers, only those teams that meet the criteria for a design team were included.

After selection based on all mentioned criteria and after excluding teams where less than two-third of the members filled in the questionnaire, the final data set for this study comprised of 112 design teams (nindividuals = 540) working in different organizations on a various range of creative tasks (going from television making, over new product design, and to writing a book). Team members were on average 40 years old (SD = 10.75, min = 21, max = 71), 62.6% of the respondents are male, and 89.77% of all respondents have a college or university degree; the degree of secondary education was the highest attained degree for 9.81% (1.52% professional secondary education, 3.97% technical secondary education, and 4.59% general secondary education). On average, a team consists of 4.82 team members (SD = 2.25, min = 3, max = 12), and 92.90% of the respondents have worked in teams before.

At the moment the questionnaire was filled out, teams already existed for 8.23 months on average (SD = 8.51, min = 0, max = 48).

Measures

In the following sections, the 12 included – and previously validated – scales are discussed. All items were measured using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree). All measures were obtained from individual team members. As these are the initially included scales and not the factors resulting from the factor analyses, the scale of team creative efficacy is not discussed here. An overview of all included scales can be found in Table 1.

Table 1.

Original scales included in questionnaire

ScaleNumber of itemsReference
Basic team learning behaviors
 Construction3Van den Bossche et al. (2006)
 Co-construction3Van den Bossche et al. (2006)
 Constructive conflict3Van den Bossche et al. (2006)
 Task learning4Rupert and Jehn (2008)
 Error communication4Savelsbergh et al. (2009)
Facilitating team learning behaviors
 Team activity (experimenting)3Savelsbergh et al. (2009)
 Team reflexivity (task + process reflexivity)7 (4 + 3)Hirst and Mann (2004)
 Boundary crossing communication3Edmondson (1999)
Team creative behaviors13Adapted from George and Zhou (2001) measuring individual creative behavior
Psychological safety7Edmondson (1999)
Team interdependence
 Outcome interdependence2Van der Vegt et al. (1998)
 Task interdependence2Van der Vegt et al. (1998)

Team effectiveness

A scale developed by Van den Bossche et al. (2006) was used to measure the team effectiveness (4 items). This scale includes three aspect of effectiveness: viability (e.g., “I would want to work with this team in the future.”), team performance (e.g., “I am satisfied with the performance of our team.”), and team learning outcomes (e.g., “As a team, we learned a lot.”).

Team creative processes

To measure the team creative processes, the 13-item scale developed by George and Zhou (2001; 13 items) assessing employee creative behavior was transformed to refer to the team level. Sample items for this scale are “This team is a good source of creative ideas.” and “In this team, members come up with new and practical ideas to improve performance.”

Team learning processes

The scale developed by Van den Bossche et al. (2006) assessed the three basic team learning behaviors, such as sharing (3 items; “If something is unclear, we ask each other questions about it.”), co-construction (3 items; “Team members elaborate on each other’s information and ideas.”), and constructive conflict (3 items; “Comments on ideas are acted upon in this team.”). Because previous empirical studies including this scale showed that it is not a three-dimensional but a one-dimensional scale, this study complements it with two other measures for basic team learning behaviors: task learning (Rupert, 2010; 4 items; “We all share our knowledge in order to increase our understanding of the task.”) and error communication (Savelsbergh et al., 2009; 4 items; “Errors are discussed openly in this team.”). The facilitating learning behaviors, team activity, boundary crossing, and team reflexivity were respectively measured by a scale developed by Savelsbergh et al. (2009; 3 items; “In our team, we experiment with other working methods.”), Edmondson (1999; 3 items; “Team members go out and get all the information they possibly can from others – such as customers or other parts of the organization.”), and Hirst and Mann (2004; 7 items; “The methods used by the team are often discussed.”).

Psychological safety

Team psychological safety was assessed using the 7-item questionnaire developed by Edmondson (1999). Sample items for this scale are, for example, “It is safe to take a risk on this team” and “If you make a mistake in this team, it is often held against you” (reversed item).

Team interdependence

The scale developed by Van der Vegt et al. (1998) was used to measure the team interdependence (4 items). This scale comprises both task and outcome interdependence (2 items each). Sample items for this scale are, for example, “My team members depend on me for information and advice” (task interdependence) and “It benefits me when my team members attain their goals” (outcome interdependence).

SMMPS and SMMTCE

Values for the team’s SMM for psychological safety and creative efficacy were created by computing the Rwg of the corresponding level 1 variable (psychological safety and team creative efficacy, respectively) for each team. The mean SMMPS for the 112 investigated teams is .94 (SD = .31) and mean SMMTCE is on average .93 (SD = .06). The Rwg reflects the variance between team members on a certain topic (James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1993). The higher the Rwg, the higher the agreement between team members, indicating a more established SMM for that specific topic.

Analyses

Factor analyses

In this study, factor analyses were performed in three steps: first, the factorial structure of the included process measures was investigated. A questionnaire validation protocol was adopted as these scales have, to our knowledge, not yet been combined in previous research. Second, a factor analysis is conducted on the items measuring the interpersonal beliefs. Third, a last factor analysis explored the structure of the items measuring the team effectiveness. The model fit of the included confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs) is inspected using the following criteria: a Comparative Fit Index (CFI) and Tucker–Lewis Index (TLI) >.90 (Barrett, 2007; Hoe, 2008), and a root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) and standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) ≤.06 and .05, respectively (Heck and Thomas, 2009; Steiger, 2007).

As scales measuring team learning and team creative processes are, to our knowledge, not yet combined in one questionnaire, all scales measuring these processes were deferred to a questionnaire validation protocol to inspect the underlying factorial structure. The data set was randomly split in half. In the first half, an exploratory factor analysis (EFA, maximum likelihood – varimax rotation) was conducted (n = 270), and in the second half, based on the EFA results, a CFA was conducted. A Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin measure of sampling adequacy of .90 and a significant Bartlett’s test of sphericity (χ2 = 2761.78, df = 253, p < .001) indicated that there is a sufficient amount of common variance in the intercorrelation matrix to perform an EFA. Results showed that this data reflect a five-factorial model: 53.46% of the variance is explained by these five factors, measured by 23 items (a cut-off loading of .40 was applied). The five retrieved factors consisted of basic team processes (explains 21.04% of the variance), team facilitating processes (15.81% variance explained), error communication (8.03% variance explained), team creative efficacy (5.34% variance explained), and co-construction (3.24% variance explained).

The second half of the CFA showed a good model fit of the tested five-factor model (CFI = .91; TLI = .89; SRMR = .06; RMSEA = .07). All 23 items loaded significantly on one of the five factors in this model. Finally, a second CFA was performed on the whole data set, and the results confirmed that the five-factorial model – including 23 items – shows a good fit to the entire data set (CFI = .93; TLI = .92; SRMR = .06; RMSEA = .06).

Results from this step showed that the nine scales measuring team learning and creative processes actually assess the following five factors: basic team processes (5 items, α = .78), facilitating team processes (8 items, α = .87), error communication (4 items, α = .78), team creative efficacy (4 items, α = .79), and co-construction (2 items, α = .69).

Items measuring the team’s beliefs about the interpersonal context were each included in a CFA, together with the items of the team creative efficacy factor resulting from this first factor analysis, as the items included in this factor measure a member’s opinion about the team interpersonal context more than the perception of team behaviors (for the items, see Appendix). All three of these constructs concern the interpersonal beliefs about the team. A TLI and CFI of .97 showed a good fit of the three-factor model. The RMSEA and SRMR values (.035 and .036, respectively) confirmed this good fit. The reliabilities of the factors measuring psychological safety (α = .72) and team creative efficacy (α = .79) were good; the factor assessing team interdependence was unfortunately not reliable (α = .33). The variable measuring team interdependence was thus excluded from all further analyses.

To conclude this inspection of the factorial structure, a final CFA was performed on the items measuring team effectiveness. This CFA showed that these 4 items indeed measure one factor. A close to perfect model fit was established (CFI = 1; TLI = 1; RMSEA < .001; SRMR = .013). Furthermore, the 4-item scale proved to be reliable (α = .73). An overview of the descriptive statistics, factor correlations and internal consistencies of the retained factors can be found in Table 2.

Table 2.

Descriptive statistics, factor correlations, and Cronbach’s α

FactorMeanSDICC1123456789
1. Psychological safety4.1.42.09.72
2. Team creative efficacy5.32.83.30.16**.79
3. Facilitating team processes4.77.93.20.18***.54***.87
4. Basic team learning behaviors5.871.04.10.07.30***.18***.78
5. Error communication5.09.95.22.23*.43***.46***.35***.85
6. Co-construction5.66.78.28.14***.38***.43***.31***.32***.69
7. Team effectiveness5.71.75.26.20***.59***.51***.31***.46***.50***.73
8. SMMTCE.91.20/−.03.12.01.08.05.15.14/
9. SMMPS.94.31/−.05.04.03.04.06.01.05−.26/

Note. Bold values on the diagonal represent the Cronbach's α.

*p < .02, **p < .01, ***p < .001.

Multilevel structural equation modeling

As the gathered data have a multilevel structure (employees nested in teams), further analyses were conducted using multilevel structural equation modeling in Mplus 7.2 (Muthén & Muthén, 2014). This multilevel method acknowledges that this data are hierarchically nested (responses coming from individuals nested in teams) and that both levels are not independent (Ludtke et al., 2008). As opposed to, for example, aggregating individual responses into a team score, multilevel modeling allows partitioning the total variance into within and between variance (Byrne, 2011).

The structural equation modeling technique allows to test the research model as a whole, investigating both direct and mediated effects at the within, between, or across level(s).

To estimate the hypothesized model and to handle, for example, missing data and variance of team size, a robust maximum likelihood estimation as implemented in Mplus 7.2 was used. The model fit was inspected based on the χ2 ratio statistic, CFI, and RMSEA. For the latter two, the same guidelines for model acceptance were employed as used in the CFAs.

Testing the need for multilevel analyses

Following the standard guidelines of Preacher, Zyphur, and Zhang (2010), the need for multilevel modeling was investigated by inspecting the Type I intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs). This ICC reflects the amount of group homogeneity, and thus denotes the proportion of variance explained by the team structure inherent to our data. According to Byrne (2011), ICC values >.10 should be considered as a sign for a moderate to high grouping effect. The ICC values of the variables in this model range from .09 (psychological safety) to .30 (team creative efficacy), with an average ICC of .21 (SD = .08).

Overall, these findings suggest a non-negligible effect of the team structure in this data and lead to conclude that this multilevel analyses are feasible.

Results

In a second step, the hypothesized research model was modeled and tested (see Fig. 1). The overall fit of this model, depicted in Fig. 1, was good: χ2 (15) = 38.89, p < .001, CFI = .96, and RMSEA = .054. The results from this multilevel model are described in the following sections: first, the results of individual-level effects and then the results pertaining to cross-level effects are discussed. Finally, the results of mediation effects are examined.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Results for a cross-level research model

Citation: Journal of Adult Learning, Knowledge and Innovation JALKI 1, 1; 10.1556/2059.01.2016.001

Individual level effects

As expected, most included team processes are positively associated with team effectiveness: co-construction shows the strongest relation to team effectiveness (95% CI = [.14; .31]; p < .001), followed by facilitating team processes (95% CI = [.03; .17]; p = .006) and error communication (95% CI = [.00; .13]; p = .05). Against expectations, basic team processes did not relate significantly to team effectiveness (95% CI = [–.11; .22]; p = .52). Overall, these results provided a confirmation for H1 and H2b, and a partial confirmation for H2a. The final “facilitating team processes” scale is composed of items measuring both team creative processes as facilitating team learning behaviors (which provides confirmation for H1 and H2b). Furthermore, as error communication and co-construction are considered to be basic team processes, these results provided a partial confirmation for H2a. However, the insignificant relation between the general “basic team processes” factor and team effectiveness nuanced this finding.

Concerning the modeled relations between the investigated beliefs about the interpersonal context and team processes, the positive effects between respective team psychological safety (H3a) and team creative efficacy (H5a) and all four team processes were hypothesized.

However, the relation between psychological safety and basic team processes was insignificant (95% CI = [−.21; .28]; p = .78). All other effects were positive and significant, the strongest relation being the effect between team creative efficacy and facilitating team processes (95% CI = [.56; .75];p < .001). Furthermore, team creative efficacy positively relates to error communication (95% CI = [.46; .67]; p < .001), basic team processes (95% CI = [.31; .56]; p < .001), and co-construction (95% CI = [.25; .50]; p < .001).

Psychological safety significantly relates to error communication (95% CI = [.16; .50]; p < .001), facilitating team processes (95% CI = [.09; .42]; p = .003), and co-construction (95% CI = [.02; .33]; p = .03).

Finally, a positive direct effect was found between the included beliefs and team effectiveness: again, team creative efficacy (H5b) showed a stronger relation to effectiveness (95% CI = [.22; .42]; p < .001) compared with psychological safety (H3b) (95% CI = [.00; .26]; p = .06).

Cross-level effects

Next to the modeled relations on the individual level, a cross-level effect from the within-group agreement scores for psychological safety (SMM about safety) and team creative efficacy (SMM about creative efficacy) to the four investigated processes and team effectiveness was hypothesized.

On one hand, all but three cross-level effects were significant: the SMM about creative efficacy is positively associated with processes of co-construction (95% CI = [.39; .65]; p < .001) and basic team processes (95% CI = [.13; .59]; p = .003) (H7a), and with team effectiveness (95% CI = [.32; .65]; p < .001) (H7b). On the other hand, the SMM about safety positively relates to processes of error communication (95% CI = [.09; .26]; p < .001), basic team processes (95% CI = [.04; .26]; p = .005) and co-construction (95% CI = [.02; .16]; p = .009) (H6a), and to team effectiveness (95% CI = [.04; .29]; p = .010) (H6b).

Finally, three insignificant cross-level effects were found: the team’s SMM about creative efficacy showed no significant relation to error communication (95% CI = [−.12; .46]; p = .24) or to facilitating team processes (95% CI = [−.29; .04]; p = .13); and the team’s SMM about psychological safety is not a significant predictor for these facilitating team processes (95% CI = [−.08; .11]; p = .72).

Mediation effects

Finally, the mediation effects were further investigated in the research model, where the team processes mediate the relations from the (SMM about the) beliefs – psychological safety and TCE – to team effectiveness. To find whether these are full or partial mediation effects, the direct path was fixed to zero each time.

First, the path from psychological safety to team effectiveness was fixed to zero. The resulting model was considerably worse than the hypothesized model [χ2 (16) = 44.16, p < .001; CFI = .95; RMSEA = .057; Δχ2 (1) = 5.34, p = .02]. Similarly, the obtained model when fixing the path from SMMsafety to team effectiveness to zero fitted worse than the initial research model [χ2 (16) = 44.29, p < .001; CFI = .95; RMSEA = .057; Δχ2 (1) = 45.36, p < .001].

Second, the direct effect between TCE and team effectiveness was fixed to zero. The model fit for this more restricted model [χ2 (16) = 129.22, p < .001] is insufficient: the CFI value of .79 and RMSEA of .11 reflect an inadequate fit [Δχ2 (1) = 23.77, p < .001]. Finally, a model was tested where the direct effect between SMMTCE and team effectiveness was fixed to zero. Again, this model fitted the data considerably worse than the initial research model [χ2 (16) = 50.90, p < .001; CFI = .93; RMSEA = .064; Δχ2 (1) = 20.00, p < .001].

Discussion

This study was an attempt to enhance our understanding of the role of two interpersonal beliefs – psychological safety and team creative efficacy – in the emergence of team learning and creative processes. In doing so, the role of a team’s SMM about these beliefs (SMMsafety and SMMTCE) for team processes and team effectiveness was investigated. Furthermore, the influence of both interpersonal beliefs and processes on overall experienced team effectiveness was investigated.

Of all, because of the nature of this study – a quantitative questionnaire study – the research model was changed throughout the process: initially, the construct of team creative efficacy did not occur in the research model. As the factor analyses clearly showed that five included items measure a separate factor, namely team creative efficacy, it was decided to improve the research model by considering this as a separate factor. Shifting items and factors is a common problem in questionnaire studies, although it is not often mentioned in the resulting scientific articles. Hence, this change was embraced and “team creative efficacy” was integrated as a factor into this theoretical framework. Nevertheless, this study is an indication that some of the scales used are – though previously validated – not always performing “the way they are supposed to” when combined with other scales.

This study shows that teams can profit from believing in their own creative capacity and from a psychologically safe climate. A team in which it is safe to make mistakes and share crazy ideas, and that believes they as a team have creative potential, creates a context where errors are more likely to be shared and used as an asset, team members are stimulated to reflect on what they are doing and how they are doing it. Furthermore, team members will be more likely to co-create new knowledge and experiment with new things, processes that are crucial for creative outcomes to be attained (Fairchild & Hunter, 2014).

Moreover, this study provides evidence for the importance of the “sharedness” of team members’ perceptions of the interpersonal context: teams can benefit from a SMM of team’s safety and creative efficacy. This finding that a shared mental or situation model about the team and its interactions is beneficial for team processes and effectiveness is in line with previous research, such as Mathieu et al. (2000) and Marks, Zaccaro, and Mathieu (2000).

Results showed that in contrary to the previous researches (e.g., Boon et al., 2013; Raes et al., 2013; Van den Bossche et al., 2006), psychological safety is not the strongest predictor for neither the investigated interpersonal processes nor the team effectiveness. Instead, team creative efficacy is by far the strongest predictor in this research model: team creative efficacy is a strong predictor for all four interpersonal processes (facilitating team processes, basic team processes, error communication, and co-construction). Furthermore, the direct effect of team creative efficacy on team effectiveness is significant and strong. The largest direct effect to team effectiveness was found between the SMMTCE and team effectiveness, which can be interpreted as follows: the more the team members have a shared perception of the creative efficacy within the team, the higher the overall experienced team effectiveness by the individual. This effect is stronger than any other tested effect on team effectiveness.

Although the team learning beliefs and behaviors (TLB&B) model proposed by Van den Bossche et al. (2006) has been validated across a variety of contexts (such as nursery teams, student teams, police and firemen teams, and military teams), the same results were not found in this study. Across previous validation studies of the model, psychological safety was always a very strong (and often the strongest) predictor both for the emergence of team learning processes and for team effectiveness. In this study, a direct non-significant effect between psychological safety and basic team processes was found. Furthermore, the effects of psychological safety on the other investigated processes are also smaller. Nevertheless, team psychological safety plays an important part as the sharedness of the team members’ perception of psychological safety (SMMPS) is of importance and positively related to basic team processes, co-construction, and error communication.

Additionally, the effects between the four investigated team processes and team effectiveness are quite small (with β’s ranging from .07 for error communication to .23 for co-construction, and a non-significant effect for basic team processes). One possible explanation for these rather unique and surprising findings could be found in the composition of these data sets. In previous validation studies of the TLB&B model, data were always collected in one or two specific work contexts or professions [e.g., military teams (Veestraeten et al., 2014), police and firemen teams (Boon et al., 2013), student teams (Van den Bossche et al., 2006)]. Leaning on scientific work on team types and task types (Devine, 2002; Devine et al., 1999; Wildman et al., 2011), data from a variety of professions were collected, while keeping the team type (design teams) and task type (creative task) constant. However, it could be that the diversity of professions and work contexts included has an influence on the variance in the collected data, and that by selecting teams on their team type and team task, data contain more – or a different kind of – variance compared with data for which teams were selected on their working context or profession.

Previous research on team learning or team creativity mainly investigated only one of these two constructs. This is – to our knowledge – the first study to combine both the frameworks on team processes into one quantitative study. Investigating both the processes simultaneously provides more insight into the relative importance of the different included processes for team effectiveness. It was found that, for example, for this sample, team facilitating processes (e.g., experimenting with new techniques, stepping back from routines or looking for new approaches) are a better predictor for team effectiveness than basic team processes (such as sharing information, discussing disagreements).

Furthermore, the inclusion of two within-team agreement values as second-level predictors for team processes and effectiveness is rather unique. Most studies including an Rwg score calculated the general within-team agreement on all constructs. Hence, separate Rwg scores were chosen to be included for team creative efficacy and psychological safety as proxies for the team’s SMM about psychological safety (SMMPS) and team creative efficacy (SMMTCE). By including both the variables, it was concluded that the team’s agreement about these interpersonal context characteristics is indeed important. Even more so, team members’ agreement on the appraisal of psychological safety and team creative efficacy seems to be more important for team effectiveness than their own individual appraisal.

Both SMMs function as leverage for team processes of co-construction and basic team processes. It is interesting to note that SMMTCE has no significant influence on error communication. For teams to engage in error communication, members must agree on the degree of psychological safety within the team.

Limitations and Future Research

This study is also definitely not without its own limitations. One of the main limitations is that all data were collected at one point in time. The cross-sectional research method can result in inflated relations because of the common method bias. This study also stressed that all data in the questionnaire would be processed anonymously so that tracing back any answer to the individual team member will not be possible. Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, and Podsakoff (2003) argued that guaranteeing anonymity minimizes the common method bias. Another limitation of this cross-sectional approach is its inability to establish causality. It could thus very well be that a feeling of team effectiveness leads to, for example, higher team facilitating processes instead of the other way around. Although this reasoning cannot be ignored, the directionality in this research model (facilitating processes leading to team effectiveness) is supported by previous research.

However, future research should be focused to find the causality of the relations examining, for example, by conducting longitudinal research. With a longitudinal setup, it is possible not only to investigate the causality but also to examine the existence of a spiral of reinforcement between, for example, the interpersonal beliefs or SMMs and the processes in teams.

Apart from the cross-sectional setup, the non-inclusion of a performance measure is another limitation to this study. The dependent variable in this research model – team effectiveness – is based on the perception of the team members themselves. Including a performance score that is not based on self-perception (e.g., client satisfaction or performance scored by supervisor) would strengthen the findings in this study. Unfortunately, data on team performance would not be gathered, as many teams had not completed their project, and interim performance scores would probably not always be representative for final team performance.

Moreover, as this study proves the importance of within-team agreement on the interpersonal context (investigated as SMMPS and SMMTCE in this study) for the emergence of team processes and effectiveness, future research might take into consideration to include these variables to replicate these findings and strengthen the understanding of this mechanism. Furthermore, a critical revision of concepts such as psychological safety and team creativity might be necessary: Do these variables make sense as team variables? If future research would decide that these variables should indeed be regarded as an individual’s perception of the team (s)he is working with, then constructing “team scores” for these variables should be avoided when possible.

Practical Implications

Team creative efficacy is a key variable in this research model as it is the strongest predictor for the emergence of team processes. Furthermore, believing in the team’s creative capacity is important for team effectiveness. This means that team creative efficacy is a relevant subject for the training or coaching of teams. Teams that believe in their ability to be creative will engage more in co-construction and facilitating processes that are the seeds for creating a creative outcome.

Increasing psychological safety in teams often appears to be a challenging task for a team coach. This study shows that no so much the perception of psychological safety itself, but the degree to which team members share this perception is important for team processes to emerge. Both investigated SMMs (about psychological safety in the team and about the creative capacity of the team) prove to be highly important for team processes and effectiveness. Team leaders, team coaches, or team members who are interested in leveraging the team processes and effectiveness can build these SMMs by encouraging team members to be open and honest (by getting them to talk about it). Only when team members explicitly share their feeling of safety, they can actively work toward building a SMM on psychological safety. Similarly, when team members share how confident they are about the creative capacity of the team and why they feel this way, the team can collectively reflect on these feelings and act upon them with the goal of building a shared vision about the team’s creative abilities.

The paradox in this reasoning is that previous research showed that when psychological safety is low, team members engage less in sharing (Edmondson, 1999). And it is exactly this process of sharing that is crucial for building psychological safety and SMMs about the interpersonal context of the team. Team leaders (whether formal or informal) can encourage team members to open up, for example, leading by example, or facilitating a team discussion on how the team works and feels. Overall, it is the team members and team leaders taking up ownership for their team and speaking up from this feeling of each individual’s responsibility for the team’s functioning.

Authors’ contribution

All authors have been personally and actively involved in substantive work leading to the manuscript, and will hold themselves jointly and individually responsible for its content.

Ethical statement

All ethical standards were met.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Appendix: Items per factor

Team creative efficacy

  1. 1.This team is a good source of creative ideas.
  2. 2.This team often has a fresh approach to problems.
  3. 3.This team exhibits creativity on the job when given the opportunity to.
  4. 4.In this team, we are not afraid to take risks.

Psychological safety

  1. 1.Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
  2. 2.It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  3. 3.If you make a mistake in this team, it is often held against you.
  4. 4.People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  5. 5.No one in this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  6. 6.It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  7. 7.Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.

Co-construction

  1. 1.Information from team members is complemented with information from other team members.
  2. 2.Team members elaborate on each other’s information and ideas.

Facilitating team processes

  1. 1.In our team, we experiment with other working methods.
  2. 2.Together we plan to test new working methods.
  3. 3.This team suggests new ways of performing work tasks.
  4. 4.Our team tests new working methods.
  5. 5.The methods used by the team are often discussed.
  6. 6.The team steps back from daily routines to consider whether the methods used are the best available.
  7. 7.In this team, members suggest new ways to increase quality.
  8. 8.This team searches out new technologies, techniques and/or product ideas

Basic team processes

  1. 1.If something is unclear, we ask each other questions about it.
  2. 2.We all share our knowledge in order to increase our understanding of the task.
  3. 3.During task performance, we try to share our expertise as much as possible.
  4. 4.Comments on ideas are acted upon in this team.
  5. 5.Team members collectively draw conclusions from the ideas that are discussed in the team.

Error communication

  1. 1.We discuss errors within our team, because errors and their solutions can deliver important information.
  2. 2.Errors are discussed openly in this team.
  3. 3.In our team, mistakes are discussed internally.
  4. 4.Team members communicate their mistakes, to prevent that others make the same mistake.

Team effectiveness

  1. 1.As a team, we learned a lot.
  2. 2.I am satisfied with the performance of our team.
  3. 3.I would want to work with this team in the future.
  4. 4.We are completing the task in a way we all agree upon.

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