Kellogg Research: Improve Cooperation With "Consistent Contributors"

Last Updated Mar 19, 2010 3:25 PM EDT

How do you act when working on a team project? Do you work for collective goals first, putting your personal gains second? Do you behave in this manner even if the rest of the group are only looking out for themselves? If so, you might be a "consistent contributor," the team member who, according to recent Kellogg School of Management research, is crucial to group success.

Kellogg professor J. Keith Murnighan and University of Toronto professor (and Kellogg alum) J. Mark Weber published research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discussing the problems associated with getting groups to cooperate.
Why consistent contributors matter
Often times, group members put their own interests first when they can achieve short-term personal gains by doing so. For example, someone may choose not to pay his full share of the bill at a group dinner, assuming that others will overpay, thus saving himself a few dollars.

However, groups that contained consistent contributors are less likely to exhibit such selfish behavior. The authors conducted experiments in which four-person groups of student volunteers were given lottery tickets that they could keep for themselves or contribute to a group account. Consistent contributors were planted in some groups, and other groups had no consistent contributor. Among the results:

  • Groups with consistent contributors gave more tickets to the group accounts.
  • Consistent contributors were perceived by the group as "more cooperative, less competitive, less self-centered, more group-oriented and fairer."
  • Consistent contributors convinced other group members that cooperation was desirable.
  • They were also able to convince competitive individuals more concerned with personal gain to contribute to the group account.
What it means
For managers, this study implies that knowing which of your employees act as consistent contributors -- and making sure that each of your teams and departments has at least one -- will improve group cooperation. Or, as Murnighan puts it, "If someone consistently acts as a friend, it's easier for others to act as friends and everyone benefits."

Image courtesy of Flickr user lifeabundantly, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.