Self-censorship in innovation teams


Hannes Guenter (contact), Bert Schreurs, Hetty van Emmerik, Paul Iske (Organization & Strategy)

Co-operation with AMI Consultancy  (Maastricht, Netherlands)

Further information

Introduction and position in the current literature

Innovation, that is, the collective process of idea generation and implementation, affords individuals to question existing assumptions and introduce new ideas (Gibson & Gibbs, 2006). As questioning the status quo is believed to be risky, employees may decide to intentionally withhold input (e.g., ideas, suggestions, concerns) about important work issues from their leaders (Morrison, 2011). This tendency to withhold useful ideas or concerns is called self-censorship (Detert & Edmondson, 2011). In this project, we study self-censorship in work teams and focus on teams predicated on the assumption that members speak up and question existing assumptions (e.g., R&D teams, consultancy teams, and strategic business units). Unlike prior research, we focus on the dynamics in self-censorship in teams, that is, how self-censorship changes over time. Previous research has treated self-censorship as rather stable behavior. This is surprising because self-censorship is a learned behavior (Detert & Edmondson, 2011) and hence can be unlearned and modified.  For example, initially a newcomer to a work team may have the implicit assumption that his/her supervisor would see speaking up as undermining and insubordinate. But perhaps in the right condition (i.e., encouraging leadership, open team atmosphere) he/she can learn that it is safe to speak up.

Research questions & hypothesis

In this project, we study self-censorship as learned behavior and focus on its dynamics in project teams. We seek to identify leadership behaviors necessary to encourage speaking up and study how leadership influences self-censorship over time. We also account for the fact that employees may react differently to one and the same kind of leadership depending on their personality and work attitude.

Research methods
We use a longitudinal questionnaire study (i.e., with weekly measures) to examine the within-person changes in self-censorship. We investigate how these changes associate with stable factors (i.e., personality) and with factors that themselves may change over time (i.e., team leadership, team atmosphere).


  • Detert, J. R., & Edmondson, A. C. (2011). Implicit voice theories: Taken-for-granted rules of self-censorship at work. Academy of Management Journal, 54(3), 461-488.
  • Gibson, C. B., & Gibbs, J. L. (2006). Unpacking the concept of virtuality: The effects of geographic dispersion, electronic dependence, dynamic structure, and national diversity on team innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(3), 451-495.
  • Morrison, E. W. (2011). Employee voice behavior: Integration and directions for future research. The Academy of Management Annals, 5(1), 373-412.