THE ROLE OF PROACTIVITY IN OVERCOMING THREAT: A MODEL OF TEAM LEARNING
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Team learning is critical for teams to be successful in dynamic environments. However, teams often experience threats that can lead to rigid approaches to their work. Threats can cause teams to rely on well-known responses to their tasks and prevent them from exploring new ideas and opportunities. Consequently, threats can be associated with diminished learning in teams. I focus on this issue by examining the following question: What enables teams to reduce the negative effects of threat on team learning? I argue that when confronting threat, teams composed of members with higher proactive personality are likely to more positively frame the threat and engage in behaviors that enable them to explore alternative approaches to their work. Therefore, I propose that proactivity can help teams buffer against the negative effects of threat on team learning processes, which include behaviors such as seeking feedback, engaging in experimentation, and discussing errors. I test my hypotheses in an experimental study in which 94 5-person teams work on a command and control simulation. I manipulate a) team composition with respect to proactivity and b) threat, which was conceptualized as a potential loss to personal reputation and public discrediting for poor performance. Results indicate that irrespective of their proactivity levels, teams demonstrated high levels of team learning processes in the absence of threat. By contrast, in the presence of threat, only teams in the high proactivity condition maintained high levels of learning processes whereas teams in the low proactivity condition displayed significantly diminished learning processes and (subsequent) performance.