Article | Organization Science | July – August 2011

Deliberate Learning to Improve Performance in Dynamic Service Settings: Evidence from Hospital Intensive Care Units

by I. M. Nembhard and A. L. Tucker

Abstract

Dynamic service settings-characterized by workers who interact with customers to deliver services in a rapidly changing, uncertain, and complex environment (e.g., hospitals)-play an important role in the economy. Organizational learning studies in these settings have largely investigated autonomous learning via cumulative experience as a strategy for performance improvement. Whether induced learning through the use of deliberate learning activities provides additional performance benefits has been neglected. We argue that the use of deliberate learning activities offers performance benefits beyond those of cumulative experience because these activities counter the learning challenges presented by rapid knowledge growth, uncertainty, and complexity in dynamic settings. We test whether there are additional performance benefits to using deliberate learning activities and whether the effectiveness of these activities depends on interdisciplinary collaboration in the workgroup. We test our hypotheses in a study of 23 hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) involved in a quality improvement collaborative. We find that using deliberate learning activities is associated with better workgroup performance, as measured by NICUs' risk-adjusted mortality rates for 2,159 infant patients, but only after two years. In the shorter term, using these activities is associated with worse performance. By the third year, the positive impact of using deliberate learning activities is similar to the benefit of cumulative experience (18% and 20% reduction in odds of mortality, respectively). Contrary to prediction, interdisciplinary collaboration mediates, rather than moderates, the relationship between using deliberate learning activities and workgroup performance. Thus, our data suggest that using deliberate learning activities fosters interdisciplinary collaboration.

Keywords: Experience and Expertise; Customer Focus and Relationships; Learning; Health Care and Treatment; Service Delivery; Performance Improvement; Quality; Groups and Teams; Cooperation; Health Industry;

Citation:

Nembhard, I. M., and A. L. Tucker. "Deliberate Learning to Improve Performance in Dynamic Service Settings: Evidence from Hospital Intensive Care Units." Organization Science 22, no. 4 (July–August 2011): 907–922.