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Ideas for Leaders #125

How Team Reflexivity Fosters Innovation

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Key Concept

‘Team Reflexivity’ is the extent to which teams collectively reflect upon and adapt their operating methods and ways of working. This research explores the fundamental belief that highly reflexive teams will be more innovative than teams low in reflexivity, especially when faced with demanding work environments. It is an important predictor of team outcomes and innovation. The researchers explore why teamwork is better and more effective than individual acts and innovation.

Idea Summary

Assessing a situation before acting may seem like common sense. After all, many languages have an equivalent of the English proverb: ‘look before you leap’. However, people rarely apply this in their daily working lives; we seldom make time to stop and reflect on our processes, and most teams and organizations are action-orientated. If you stop to analyse the source of a problem before you act it may take more time initially to resolve, but the problem will not resurface time and time again. By being reflexive in this way processes will be much smoother as a result.

Individuals within a team can be highly reflexive, but if they keep the ideas to themselves, nothing is going to change at the team level. Team members need to share and discuss their beliefs, and the resulting analysis needs to be acted on to achieve real change.

Teams are too often inclined to follow routines. This may work in a safe, unchanging environment where the same tasks are carried out every day, but in a volatile, high-pressure environment teams need to be able innovate to operate effectively.

The researchers developed and tested a team level contingency model of team reflexivity, work demands and innovation in 98 NHS primary healthcare teams in a high-stress environment. Fundamentally this revealed that highly reflexive teams will be more innovative than teams low in reflexivity, especially when faced with demanding work environments. The research identified many differences between the teams studied. It showed if you have a limited budget and resources it becomes important to stop and reflect on how to organise these. The results were examined in the context of the need for reflexivity and innovation among work teams facing high demands, they found there was a link.

Higher levels of reflexivity and work demands produced higher levels of innovation. A link was also discovered between the reflexivity, the quality of the physical work environment, the spaciousness and quality of the working area, facilities and general condition of the building. A poor work environment coupled with high team reflexivity resulted in very high levels of innovation to counter the adverse working conditions.

This link is especially helpful when work demands are too high. All too often in stressful environments, the first reaction of a team to any challenges is to work harder and stick to routines. But that doesn’t always work. The research identified ways in which teams can learn to work smarter and showed it is possible to make the best of adverse conditions by reflecting and innovating.

Business Application

People tend to always make the same basic mistakes and errors. Encouraging team reflexivity is a good way to eradicate default errors and thus make better decisions.

  • Time: To overcome fundamental problems, teams and people need to set aside time to reflect on processes before acting. Look at ways to change the ways of working to continually improve rather than employee’s burn out.
  • Create teams: to collectively adapt working methods, and eradicate default errors and make better decisions.
  • Team Charter: create a team charter and agree ways of working together.
  • Goal Setting: Find the root cause of the problem do not create ad hoc solutions that paper over the cracks.
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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • April 2013

DOI number



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