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The purpose of this study is to answer a call for the rejuvenation of the absorptive capacity (ACAP) construct by offering a novel conceptualization and empirical test of a multidimensional model of R&D project team ACAP that portrays it as a capability distinct from prior knowledge, specifies each dimension's level of analysis, distinguishes between individual and collective assimilation, and considers the moderating effects of team structure. Using a dataset from survey and archival sources on 100 innovations by R&D project teams, we find that the capability of R&D team members to evaluate external knowledge is related to their ability to assimilate it and that both individual assimilation capabilities and collective assimilation capabilities, in the form of ability to reach a shared understanding, are important to the team's ability to apply external knowledge. We also find that prior knowledge negatively moderates the relationship between individual assimilation and application ability and that team autonomy positively moderates this relationship. By clarifying levels of analysis and encompassing multiple dimensions of ACAP, this work leads to a more fine-grained understanding of the complex nature of ACAP. Implications of these findings for future research and R&D team management are presented.
Date of Publication: Nov. 2010