Group work creativity research directly impacting teaching practice

An academic from the University’s Management School is putting his research on group work creativity into practice, by directly responding to his own findings and changing the way he delivers taught sessions – so that students gain an increased benefit in their studies.

A manager oversees a group of employees in a meeting.

Dr Dermot Breslin, a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour, undertook a student-based research study a few years ago where he looked at the way groups form, in a university context, and how their behaviour changed over time.

“Considering that most, or a lot, of the students’ work is done in groups and that they will work in groups when they leave here, it was about studying how these groups emerged at the start and how they developed interactions as they got to know each other better,” Dermot says.

Through analysing data from this original research project, Dermot found that the creative performance of the groups he studied changed extensively throughout the day.

I can make them more creative as a group, regardless of their own individual abilities.

Dr Dermot Breslin

Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour

Following on from this initial finding, he did a second study with a further cohort of students and found a significant change in the number of ideas that each group generated, depending on the time of day – idea generation was lowest at 9am, peaked between 11am and 1pm, then dropped off again towards 4pm.

“The difference was double,” Dermot says, “they generated double the number of ideas around the lunchtime period than they did at the start or the end of the day."

The group effect

These findings were not only consistent across all the groups, but Dermot also found that there was no effect on the group score if an individual was more of a ‘morning’ or an ‘evening type’.

“Everyone’s got different individual levels of creativity, but what I’m looking at is the group effect because most of the assignments that we do here are group based and a lot of the work that they’ll do in industry is group based.

“So, what’s interesting is that, despite the differences in the group, the groups themselves all become more creative. This is what I tell them, that I can make them more creative as a group regardless of their own individual abilities,” says Dermot.

Dermot has also incorporated research into how different types of breaks can impact on group creativity, noticing that what students do during a break and who they spend it with can make a real difference to the quality of ideas generated.

He found that if students have breaks together, instead of spending them alone, the group will have more original ideas; and active, collaborative group breaks – such as sorting Lego – boosted group creativity by 45%.

Dermot says: “Students are now much better informed about their performance, especially in groups and when to do certain tasks and how to do those tasks, how to take breaks during those tasks – these are clear take-aways that they have to boost their performance.”

Research informing practice

Taking this research into the classroom and lecture hall has been an invaluable part of delivering this research to his students for Dermot, who requests that University admin staff schedule some 11am and 1pm sessions for his modules when they’re timetabling for the new academic year.

This allows him to put creative or problem-solving activities into these midday sessions, instead of in his 9am lectures or sessions later in the day.

For Dermot’s students, they’re learning about the ways in which they can work most effectively and being given valuable knowledge that they can apply in their own contexts – which stands to benefit them in their life and career, long after they’ve left University.

Dermot says: “They’ll know that this research works, because they’ve taken part in it and seen the results of their group as part of the module; it’s not just me telling them, they’ll have done the activities and seen that their performance has improved so then they can take this on to other modules and the workplace when they leave.” 

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