Factors impacting creative performance of interior design student teams

Presented by: Laura Malinin, Hillary King, Katharine Leigh, Travis Maynard

Business emphasis on creative outcomes of teamwork invites research efforts across diverse industries toward understanding why some teams work while others flounder. The challenge of improving innovation and creativity in interior design practice resonates with educators preparing students for future design careers. This paper presents a study seeking to understand the relationship of team diversity to conflict and creative productivity. It documents student team member perceptions of processes and conflicts and examines impacts on creative productivity reflected in team design solutions. Team diversity and its relationship to creativity has been empirically examined across industries, with researchers identifying many types — including demographic (Chowdhury, 2005), knowledge/skills (Frey, Lüthje & Haag, 2011), and values (Klein, Knight, Ziegert, Chong Lim, Saltz, 2011) — impacting team functions. Some find diversity advantageous for innovation and performance (Van Knippenberg, De Dreu & Homan, 2004), whereas others have found diverse teams highly unpredictable, subject to more negative conflict, and less creative and productive (Klein et al., 2011). Conflict may arise through disagreements about: tasks, including decisions, viewpoints, and ideas; processes, such as allocation of resources and roles within a team; and relationships, characterized by anger, aggression, frustration or hostility among team members. Diversity and conflict are variables impacting creative processes that can influence whether high performance design teams succeed or fail. This exploratory case study used mixed methods to examine how team composition and perception of conflict affected creative outcomes. Data collection spanned a six-week design project engaging 40 interior design students in a capstone course during their fourth (final) year of study in a CIDA-accredited program. Students were assigned into four-person teams according to self and peer identified knowledge, skills, and abilities. Demographic data were accessed from student records for age, race, and gender. Students participated in the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LSI 3.1) identifying preferred learning styles. Five sets of self-reflection survey prompts were administered during the project to gather information about design processes and student perceptions of conflict experienced. Final project outcomes were assessed for team creativity by an external panel of four interior design professionals and a non-design juror evaluated productivity. Analysis revealed teams with moderate levels of task conflict scored higher for creativity and teams with moderate levels of process conflict scored higher for productivity. Teams with high levels of process conflict also experienced relationship conflict and scored lower for creativity and productivity. The study population was fairly homogenous in terms of age, race, and gender; however, teams with gender diversity also scored higher for creativity. Of interest, the Kolb inventory revealed high learning style homogeneity among students, with 57% showing preference for accommodating style and 25% preferring assimilating. Of these, 27.5% scored as bi-modal learners with nearly equal preference for two learning styles (17.5% accommodating-converging, 5% accommodating-diverging, and 5% assimilating-diverging). No clear relationship was found between learning style diversity and either team creativity or productivity, possibly do to high homogeneity and bi-modality among participants. Process analysis revealed teams who participated in individual ideation prior to group ideation, and those who spent a greater percentage of the project exploring ideas, were rated higher for creativity. Finally, groups expressing awareness of learning style diversity among members appeared to exhibit greater conflict avoidance, suggesting students may not be confident in their abilities to debate and critique without inviting relationship conflict.


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