Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Exploring the Psychological Safety of R&D Teams: An Empirical Analysis in Taiwan

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Exploring the Psychological Safety of R&D Teams: An Empirical Analysis in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Abstract

R&D is uncertain work that involves the knowledge, skills, or perspectives of team members. When R&D teams develop new products or technologies, the need for psychological safety within the teams is increasingly emphasized. If R&D team members perceive that team psychological safety exists, they may be willing to offer knowledge or perspectives during the development process because they are not afraid of being rejected or embarrassed for speaking up. However, the application of the theory of team psychological safety to R&D teams is considerably limited. This study explores the antecedents and consequences of team psychological safety in R&D teams. Our research model is assessed using data from a sample of 245 team members from sixty technology R&D teams at a leading R&D institute and is analyzed using the partial least squares (PLS) method. The results of this study suggest that: (1) social capital exerts a positive and significant effect on team psychological safety; (2) team psychological safety has a positive and significant impact on team performance; (3) knowledge sharing and team learning positively and significantly mediate the relationship between team psychological safety and team performance; and (4) knowledge sharing exhibits a positive and significant effect on team learning. This study also discusses the implications of team psychological safety for R&D teams.

Keywords: team psychological safety, social capital, team performance, knowledge sharing, team learning, partial least squares

R&D is knowledge-intensive work, and its most important resource is expertise. R&D teams may encourage team members to express knowledge, perspectives, or skills to ensure that sufficient expertise is applied to the development of innovative products and technologies. How to create a team climate that can allow R&D members to freely express knowledge or perspectives is an important issue for R&D team management. If a team cannot be tolerant of divergent perspectives, then the individuals who carry the burden of unique perspectives may be unwilling to share their viewpoints (Mannix & Neale, 2005). This unwillingness may lead to insufficient expertise applied in the R&D process. Team psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999) is the shared belief that team members are safe to speak up. R&D members may be willing to offer their knowledge or perspectives to assist in the performance of R&D tasks because they are not afraid of being criticized or attacked for speaking up. Thus, R&D teams should create team psychological safety to ensure a sense of free expression. The recent theoretical and empirical studies of the effects of team psychological safety have especially contributed to the team behavior and management literature (Edmondson, Dillon, & Roloff, 2007; Edmondson & Roloff, 2009).

The concept of psychological safety, as such, is not new. Kahn (1990) described psychological safety as an employee's sense of being able to show and employ oneself without a fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career. In particular, Edmondson (1999) proposed a research model of team psychological safety and indicated that team structure has an effect on team psychological safety, which, in turn, facilitates learning behavior and thus improves team performance. Edmondson (1999, 2002a) suggested that theory and practice related to psychological safety must be advanced by research that investigates the effects of other factors on psychological safety and more tangible outcomes related to performance. Thus, this study explores the antecedents and consequences of team psychological safety in R&D teams (see Figure 1).

Bourdieu (1986) indicated that social capital resides in relationships. R&D team members are mostly technical professionals selected for specialized knowledge that may not include social and communication skills. …

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