Toggling between Cooperation and Competition: How Subtle Cues Shift Co-opetitive Workplace Relationships
Katherine L. Milkman
University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School
The Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania
Maurice E. Schweitzer
University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department
January 29, 2014
In organizations, employees cooperate to accomplish shared objectives, but simultaneously compete for scarce resources (e.g., mentors, promotions). In navigating this dynamic, subtle cues often escape managerial notice that shift colleagues from collaboration to competition. In contrast to prior research that has studied competition and collaboration in organizations separately or focused on simultaneous mixed motive situations, we argue that prior work has overlooked “co-opetitive” workplace relationships: relationships that switch back-and-forth between collaboration and competition. We document the prevalence of co-opetition workplace relationships, and we demonstrate that subtle cues shift employee behavior. In a field experiment, we show that subtle social comparison cues reduce co-worker peer nominations by 60%, and in a laboratory experiment find that this effect is attenuated for highly effective groups. A thin line separates whether we view our colleagues as “collaborators” or “competitors,” and our findings highlight a significant challenge for managers who may subtly and unwittingly foster competition among their employees.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 50
Keywords: rivalry, competition, collaboration, decision makingworking papers series
Date posted: October 30, 2010 ; Last revised: January 30, 2014
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