Inducing interpersonal trust and team learning using a prisoner's dilemma game
Edmondson's Team Learning Behaviors, which may drive team effectiveness, are preceded by Edmondson's mental model of safety. Safety is similar to the construct of interpersonal trust. This study tested whether or not a prisoner's dilemma game with different goal conditions would manipulate the level of between-team interpersonal trust. Further, would that manipulation then lead to different levels of Team Learning Behaviors and team effectiveness?
The study involved 240 undergraduate students, participating in 40 six-person teams. Phase I involved each six-person group splitting up into two three-person teams. Half of the groups received the goal of maximizing points for their individual teams, while half of the groups received the goal of maximizing points for the entire group of participants. The manipulation led to a difference in the amount of between-team cooperation, and further, a difference in between-team trust.
During phase II, the team of six participants was presented with a murder mystery game. The exercise contained 6 unshared clues that were unique to each of the six participants. Only through group discussion and the sharing of information could the unique clues be surfaced, which makes the game easier to solve.
The goal manipulation did not lead to a difference in team learning behaviors (defined as Experimenting, Seeking Information, Asking Questions, Seeking Feedback, and Discussing Errors), nor to a difference in an overall team learning measure. Further, the manipulation did not result in different levels of team effectiveness. However, the manipulation did lead to self-reported differences in a desire to work together in the future, confusion during the murder mystery game, satisfaction with the game outcome, and satisfaction with their experience as a team member.
The difficulty of testing a team learning model with newly formed vs. intact teams is discussed. The importance of individual differences, or a personality variable, is discussed as a potential covariate in a model of team learning. More research is needed to determine the necessary environmental and personality influences that create an abundance of Team Learning Behaviors. In today's fast paced market, the existence of Team Learning Behaviors may be the only sustainable source of competitive advantage.