Why some teams emphasize learning more than others: Evidence from business unit management teams

J. Stuart Bunderson, Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

31 Scopus citations


Why are some management teams more strongly oriented toward learning than others? The dominant notion in the learning literature is that teams will seek to learn when their outcomes do not live up to their aspirations. In this paper we argue that this perspective overlooks important factors in the social context of a management team that can promote or inhibit an orientation toward learning. In-depth analysis of qualitative and quantitative data obtained from four business unit management teams in a Fortune 100 consumer products company supports this thesis. Specifically, we find that a teams learning orientation is fostered by: (1) an emphasis on ends over means combined with clarity around ends, (2) team norms that tolerate mistakes of commission but sanction mistakes of omission, (3) a sense of uniqueness combined with a strong sense of team efficacy, and (4) cross-boundary interaction facilitated by experientially-broad boundary spanners. These findings both confirm as well as extend theoretical and empirical work on the factors that activate learning and innovation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationToward Phenomenology of Groups and Group Membership
PublisherJAI Press
Number of pages36
ISBN (Print)0762308621, 9780762308620
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameResearch on Managing Groups and Teams
ISSN (Print)1534-0856

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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