Does group work encourage creativity? Not according to the art and writing instructors that I surveyed determine which classroom environments induced creativity. Encouraging students to work in groups is suppose to improve creativity, but most instructors observed the opposite result.
More unique ideas surfaced when the learners worked on projects individually. Students collaborating in groups did not seem able to piggyback on each others’ ideas to produce elaborate and sophisticated products. Sometimes everyone followed a leader’s instruction, but the leader rarely was the most creative person. Others spent time in long discussions. Then, under time pressures they put together something that had already been done before and therefore was already familiar to the group. In a few cases, the disagreement between members caused the end product to appear piecemeal and shoddy.
Brainstorming has been touted as the way for groups to multiply innovative thinking in the workplace. Groups sessions produce more ideas if people spend alone time considering and conceptualizing ideas first. However, the best performance as far as number and quality of ideas occurs when there is a brief group session followed by individuals brainstorming on alone and on their own. In research conducted in a manufacturing company a whopping 23 of 24 groups produced a greater quantity of high quality original ideas when brainstorming alone, than in groups (Dunnet et al, 1963).
In another experiment in which people worked on simulated work tasks, one group worked alone and the other worked in the presence of other people. The results of those working in isolation were consistently judged more creative. It appears as if the very presence of others decreases creative output (Shalley 1995). This may be because we are unwilling to trying out new ideas and techniques that may flop in front of others.
Yet, often people assume that working in teams increases creativity. Is this just another fad? Research has actually been completed to discern why this mystique of greater creativity within teams exists despite so much evidence to the contrary. Allen and Hecht (2004) have proposed it is the psychological benefits of teamwork contribute to this illusion. People with strong needs for social interaction feel more satisfied when working in a team, even if the results show lower quantity or quality of ideas. Teams have social appeal because inclusion in a team provides a sense of belonging. However, teams tend to enforce similar social behavior and thought patterns that are more restrictive than those imposed by an individual leader. Belonging is based on conforming, and conformity is in essence the opposite of creativity.