Antecedents and Performance Benefits of Reciprocal Vicarious Learning in Teams

Academy of Management Proceedings


Myers, C.G. (2016). Antecedents and performance benefits of reciprocal vicarious learning in teams. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2016.

Conference Award

Received the 2016 MOC Division Best Dissertation-based Paper Award


Vicarious learning - the process by which an individual learns from another’s experience - has long been recognized as a source of development and performance improvement in organizations, at both individual and collective levels. Yet existing perspectives on this critical learning process have been fairly limited, typically casting vicarious learning as a simplistic, one- way process of observation and imitation. Building on network- based views of learning in teams, this paper challenges existing views by examining the causes and consequences of reciprocity in vicarious learning relationships - the degree to which each individual learns from the other’s experience (in contrast to the prevailing view of vicarious learning as one-way information transfer). Using a novel method for calculating weighted reciprocity, results from a multi-level study of 441 individuals in 88 consulting project teams demonstrate that individuals’ degree of reciprocity in their vicarious learning relationships with other team members is positively influenced by shared norms for learning in the team, although this influence was attenuated by individuals’ intrinsic other-focused motives for learning (i.e., a desire to learn in order to help others), which served as a compensatory driver of reciprocity. Moreover, team-level analyses revealed that greater reciprocation of vicarious learning within a team - above and beyond other aspects of a team’s vicarious learning network (i.e., density and centrality) - was associated with increased team performance, both directly and indirectly (by enhancing the performance benefit of the team’s external learning activities).