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The interactive effects of intragroup cooperation and competition: toward a perspective of paradox

Xi Ouyang (Business School, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China)
Zhiqiang Liu (School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China)
Chenglin Gui (School of Business Administration, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan, China)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 5 January 2023

Issue publication date: 17 March 2023




Underpinned by paradox theory, this study aims to investigate how and when intragroup cooperation and competition combine to drive individual creativity. It further examines how group goal orientation influences individuals’ creative processes by underscoring its effect on individuals' tendency to adopt a paradox lens.


A time-lagged survey was conducted with 85 leaders and 420 employees in Chinese high-tech companies that were actively engaged in innovative activities.


The results reveal that pure cooperation or pure competition exerts no significant influence on creativity, yet simultaneous high levels of cooperation and competition give rise to strong levels of creativity. This combined effect of cooperation and competition on employees' creativity could be explained by their changes in cognitive flexibility. Moreover, employees' flexible responses to high levels of cooperation and competition could be promoted when groups enact learning goals rather than performance goals.


This study provides a theoretical perspective on how cooperation and competition can be contingent upon each other. It also highlights the role of group learning goals when members strive to be creative in groups with high levels of competition and cooperation.



The study is funded by the Key Project of Philosophy and Social Science Research of the Ministry of Education under the award number 21JZD056; the National Natural Science Foundation of China under the award numbers 71832004, 72072066 and 72202096; China Postdoctoral Science Foundation under the award number 2022M723538; the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law under the award number 2722023BQ042.


Ouyang, X., Liu, Z. and Gui, C. (2023), "The interactive effects of intragroup cooperation and competition: toward a perspective of paradox", Management Decision, Vol. 61 No. 3, pp. 655-672.



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