Teetering between Cooperation and Competition: How Subtle Cues Unexpectedly Derail Coopetitive 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
August 31, 2013
In organizations, employees cooperate to accomplish shared objectives, but simultaneously compete for scarce resources (e.g., mentors, promotions). In navigating this dynamic, we argue that subtle cues that often escape managerial notice shift colleagues from collaboration to competition. In contrast to past research that has studied competition and collaboration in organizations separately, we argue that this approach overlooks the prevalence of “coopetitive” workplace relationships: relationships characterized by both collaboration and competition. We document the prevalence of coopetitive workplace relationships, and 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%, but 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: 41
Keywords: competition, collaboration, rivalry, groups, social comparisonworking papers series
Date posted: October 30, 2010 ; Last revised: September 1, 2013
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