The language barrier as a springboard towards (team) creativity: An exploratory study of foreign language use in teams

Anja Loderer, Katrin Muehlfeld, Robert Wilken, Alexandra Moritz, & Veronique Slomski

International Business Review 33 (2024) 102247


rior research shows that in multilingual teams, using a foreign language may adversely affect various work
processes and outcomes, resulting in a language barrier. Using a qualitative interview-study approach, this study
explores whether such barrier effects of foreign language use (FLU) also apply to team creative processes. The
results show that FLU-induced barrier effects may extend to team creative processes and can hinder
them—especially if language skills are lacking—due to reduced comprehension, increased workload and
complexity, and foreign language anxiety. In addition, extending prior research, this study documents unexpected
positive springboard effects of FLU on team creative processes. At the individual level, FLU may prompt
linguistic detours, multiplicity of meanings, and alternative (e.g., acoustic, visual) associations. At the team level,
spillover effects from the language domain may effectuate a generally more error-tolerant and less timepressured
team environment. Overall, this study enriches literature on language in international business by
uncovering counterintuitive springboard effects of FLU and by integrating it with literature on collective creativity.
It adds to research on collective creativity by advancing FLU—a characteristic central to international
business—as a boundary condition of team-level creative synthesis, thereby illustrating the potential for crossfertilization
of these largely separate research fields. Finally, we highlight implications for international business