Teams with supervisors who display moral courage to go beyond compliance can be more innovative

Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 17:17

What does it mean for a team when a supervisor shows the courage to not only comply with the basic ethical demands of the job, but also to make decisions that take into account what is right and virtuous? A recent paper by CATÓLICA-LISBON's Maria Francisca Saldanha, Paulo Nuno Lopes and co-authors, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, suggests that supervisors’ moral courage to go beyond compliance can have an effect beyond the ethical domain, enhancing innovation in teams with quality collaborative work in place.

Through two studies, researchers from the University of East Anglia, CATÓLICA-LISBON and the University of Coimbra studied the effect of supervisors’ moral courage to go beyond compliance on the teams they led, and published their results under the title "Does Supervisor’s Moral Courage to Go Beyond Compliance Have a Role in the Relationships Between Teamwork Quality, Team Creativity, and Team Idea Implementation?". They found evidence that supervisors’ displays of this important ethical competence enhanced the relationships between the quality of a team’s collaborative work, team creativity, and team idea implementation.

They concluded that, due to its promotional and empowering orientation, supervisors’ courage to go beyond compliance has relevance for team innovation in two main ways. First, by showing that they strive to do what is right, supervisors who have high moral courage to go beyond compliance inspire team members to find novel solutions, improve service, create value, and serve others well. Second, supervisors who go beyond compliance show their team members that they would help them overcome difficulties in taking such an idea from conception to the implementation stage.

“An organization that uses moral courage to go beyond compliance as a relevant criterion for the selection, training and/or development of supervisors may end up not only with a more ethical, fair and just environment but also with a more innovative one.”

What are the practical implications?

The findings of this research have practical implications regarding the way that team creativity and team idea implementation may be fostered. The researchers recommend, for example, that supervisors might seek to develop and reveal greater moral courage to go beyond compliance. This competency can be trained through learning activities.

Asked about the importance of studying this subject, Maria Francisca Saldanha responded: “When supervisors display moral courage to go beyond compliance they may be providing important clues to others on how to address challenges at work, not only in the ethical domain but also in the team innovation domain.”

The researchers also suggest that organizations interested in fostering team innovation should focus on developing both supervisors’ courage to go beyond compliance and teamwork quality, since the quality of teams’ collaborative work has a prominent role in team innovation.

Overall, the researchers continue, “An organization that uses moral courage to go beyond compliance as a relevant criterion for the selection, training and/or development of supervisors may end up not only with a more ethical, fair and just environment but also with a more innovative one.”

These conclusions were drawn from two different studies across the USA and Portugal and in diverse occupations, and the findings were subject to robustness checks and tests of alternative explanations.

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