Employee creativity is critical to organizations' growth and is largely dependent on team dynamics. However, teams generally fail to encourage members to share their diverse knowledge, especially those that may cause disagreement among team members, as conflict often occurs in a team context. However, the issue of how to enhance employee creativity from the perspective of team leader in a team context is largely understudied. This study aims to explore the cross-level links between the transformational behavior of team leader and employee creativity in a team context. We propose a three-path cross-level mediating model in which two critical team-level process variables, i.e., team conflict and knowledge sharing, are involved. Using multi-level structural equation modeling, we found that team conflict and knowledge sharing served as two sequential mediators between the cross-level links. This study highlights the critical role of transformational leadership as across-level enabler for employee creativity.
To facilitate employee creativity, one of the prevalent human resource practices is to organize employees into small groups. In groups, members can share their distributed knowledge to enhance their creative capabilities, which in turn help their organization create innovative products and services (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996; Wang & Noe, 2010). It is evident that knowledge sharing among employees is critical to organizational creativity and innovation (Carmeli, Gelbard, & Reiter-Palmon, 2013; Gilson, Lim, Luciano, & Choi, 2013; Grant, 1996; Van Wijk, Jansen, & Lyles, 2008; Wang & Noe, 2010). However, placing employees into groups does not always result in effective knowledge sharing and organizational innovation. One key reason may lie in team conflict.
In this study, we unveil a critical part of the complex intra-group process where transformational leadership manages conflict, facilitates knowledge sharing, and finally enhances individual creativity in a team context. Our research fills the existing gaps in literature by unfolding a cross-level process with cross-level mechanisms (e.g., team conflict and knowledge sharing) as a new perspective to understand individual creativity in a team context. Further, this perspective enjoys the unique advantage of understanding the cultural differences in conflict style and conflict management. In a context where the cultural traditions value social harmony (e.g., the Chinese context), conflict management may require different approaches in contrast to the other context where conflict is more accepted. Accordingly, future research should move toward a greater emphasis on cross-level processes and cultural differences in organizational behaviors, especially in a team context.