Lean Systems

Topics: Team, Learning, Psychology Pages: 45 (8274 words) Published: February 11, 2013
Psychological Safety
and Learning Behavior
in Work Teanns
Amy Ednnondson
Harvard University

This paper presents a model of team learning and tests it
in a multimethod field study. It introduces the construct
of team psychological safety—a shared beiief held by
members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking—and models the effects of team psychological safety and team efficacy together on learning and performance in organizational work teams. Results

of a study of 51 work teams in a manufacturing company, measuring antecedent, process, and outcome variables, show that team psychological safety is associated with learning behavior, but team efficacy is not, when

controlling for team psychological safety. As predicted,
learning behavior mediates between team psychological
safety and team performance. The results support an integrative perspective in which both team structures, such as context support and team leader coaching, and shared
beliefs shape team outcomes.*
A growing reliance on teams in changing and uncertain organizational environments creates a managerial imperative to understand the factors that enable team learning. Although
much has been v\/r'itten about teams and about learning in
organizations, our understanding of learning in teams remains limited. A review of the team effectiveness and organizational learning literatures reveals markedly different approaches and a lack of cross-fertilization between them. An emerging literature on group learning, with theoreticai papers on groups as information-processing systems and a number

of empirical studies examining information exchange in laboratory groups, has not investigated the learning processes of real vyork teams (cf. Argote, Gruenfeld, and Naquin, 1999).
Although most studies of organizational learning have been
field-based, empirical research on group learning has primarily taken place in the laboratory, and little research has been done to understand the factors that Influence learning behavior in ongoing teams in reai organizations.

© ^999 by Cornell Unwersfty,

1 thank Richard Hackman for extensive
advice and feedback on the design of this
study and on several versions of this paper, Keith Murnlghan, Rod Kramer. Mark Cannon, and three anonymous reviewers
provided feedback that greatly benefited
the final version of the paper, I gratefully
acknowledge the Division of Research at
the Harvard Business School for providing financial support for this research.

Studies of work teams in a variety of organizational settings have shown that team effectiveness is enabled by structural
features such as a well-designed team task, appropriate
team composition, and a context that ensures the availability of information, resources, and rewards (Hackman, 1987).
Many researchers have concluded that structure and design,
including equipment, materials, physical environment, and
pay systems, are the most important variables for improving
work-team performance {Goodman, Devadas, and Hughson,
1988; Campion, Medsker, and Higgs, 1993; Cohen and Ledford, 1994) and have argued against focusing on interpersonal factors (e.g., Goodman, Ravlin, and Schminke, 1987), According to this research, organization and team structures explain most of the variance in team effectiveness.

In contrast, organizational learning research has emphasized cognitive and interpersonal factors to explain effectiveness, showing, for example, that individuals' tacit beliefs about interpersonal interaction inhibit learning behavior and give rise to ineffectiveness in organizations (e.g., Argyris, 1993). This cognitive emphasis takes different forms. Organizational

iearning theorists have offered both descriptive theory ex350/AdniinistretJve Science Quarterly, 44 (1999): 350-383

Psychological Safety

plaining the failure of organizations to adapt rationally due to cognitive biases that favor existing...
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