Many corporations encourage collaboration and make it part of culture statements and annual performance reviews.
Cisco Systems, for example, defined collaboration as “working across boundaries, building teams, managing conflict, earning trust, and recognizing good performance,” part of the CLEAD performance management and development system.
Ability to collaborate develops in childhood and is associated with positive life outcomes, demonstrated in a two decade longitudinal study of more than 750 Americans from kindergarten into adulthood by Penn State’s Damon Jones, Mark Greenberg and Daniel Max Crowley.
They found that kindergartners whose teachers rated them highly on social competence dimensions including:
- Cooperates with peers without prompting,
- Helpful to others,
- Good at understanding feelings,
- Resolves problems on own, also had superior educational attainment, stable employment and housing, and no criminal record.
Although collaborative settings may boost honesty due to increased observability, accountability, University of Nottingham’s Ori Weisel and Shaul Shalvi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev showed that collaboration among equals can trigger corruption by lying, misreporting, and exaggerating performance.
They experimentally evaluated performance between 280 partners on a die rolling task for which they earned cash.
Player A privately rolled a die and reported the result to player B, who then privately rolled and reported the result.
Both players were paid only if they both reported the same results — for example, if both reported rolling “6”, each earned €6.
Players tended to inflate potential profit by misreporting actual outcomes, demonstrated by the proportion of reported matches.
The probability of rolling the same number in each round was one in six, or an average of 3.33 times in 20 rounds.
However, teams reported an average of 16.3 matches—nearly five times the expected number, demonstrating likely misrepresentation to achieve financial payoff.
Participants also lied even when they did not benefit, provided their partner benefitted.
Wiesel and Shalvi explained that “people are willing to pay the moral cost of lying even if they don’t stand to get any material benefit—the only benefit is the joy of collaboration.”
When partners’ payoffs were not aligned, they were less likely to inaccurately report performance.
This finding suggests that participants were more likely to engage in “corrupt collaboration” when lying was financially advantageous to themselves and their partners.
Lying, one component of “corrupt collaboration,” occurs many times each day, according to University of Massachusetts’ Robert Feldman.
In fact, he found that two people getting acquainted lied an average of three times in ten minutes.
However, lying may not be detected in collaborative situations.
Feldman asserts that “no single or even combination of verbal or nonverbal behaviors accurately indicate when a person is lying… Most people have no better than a coin-flip chance of telling a lie from the truth….And many of the cues we think are associated with lying are unrelated to deception.”
This view is more pessimistic than Paul Ekman’s contention that lying can be detected.
Besides being potentially difficult to detect in collaborative situations, lying can be contagious.
For example, volunteers were more likely to engage in their own deceptive behavior toward others as a result of being duped, in research by Purdue’s James M. Tyler, Robert S. Feldman of University of Massachusetts with Andreas Reichert of University of Konstanz.
Corrupt collaboration practices like lying may persist due to financial and other benefits.
In fact, people who lie also demonstrated more confidence, higher achievement goals, positive affect, and composure during a stressful mock job interview scenario by Harvard’s Greg Willard and Richard Gramzow of Syracuse University.
However, when liars knew that their embellishments would be verified, their performance – and their prevarications – were reduced over time.
This finding suggests that visible monitoring seem to curb the potential downsides of collaboration in the workplace.
Despite collaboration’s purported positive effects on innovation, this teamwork approach can be accompanied by a side effect of enabling willful and reckless “corruption”, lying, and exaggeration.
However, this darker side of collaboration can be reduced by verifying the trust instilled in others.
-*How have you maximized the benefit of collaboration and team work while reducing the likelihood of developing “corrupt collaboration”?
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Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
Gary W. Kelly wrote:
In the 1980s Tom Peters wrote of a technique–management by walking about. He suggests that managers should walk about the workplace as a regular part of their work. I used the technique myself while managing a group of young people, and found it extremely helpful. One learns much by simply being present, and the interest one takes in the employees, their work, and their goals, has its own dividend. It helped me to understand any issues that were arising–conflicts, or misunderstandings.
This should be done so frequently that the employees feel one is a fixture. They should be relaxed, and able to express themselves, so that emotions are aired before they generate reactions that are more difficult to mediate. It was a good test, as these young people had little prior work history, so did not have prior experience to guide their behaviors.
Kathryn Welds replied:
Thanks so much for the reminder of MBWO – Management By Walking Around. Here’s an empirical study by Anita Tucker and Sara Singer of Harvard that validates the practice – http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/12-113_9a2bc5e8-2f70-4288-bb88-aeb2de49e955.pdf