The Key to Effective Collaboration
Cooperation makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective, explains David Melamed, an assistant professor of sociology at The Ohio State University (OSU) and lead author of a new study that explores what leads people to collaborate more willingly.
“You always do better by not cooperating because then people can’t rip you off or take advantage of you,” says Melamed. “Especially in a one-time interaction, it’s essentially paying a cost for someone else to benefit, and researchers have been working for a long time to understand why people evolved to work together.”
So, what did Melamed and his co-authors find? Giving people both the flexibility to choose their own collaborators and the comfort of working with established contacts may be the key to getting them to work together effectively.
Researchers used the Amazon Mechanical Turk website to find participants. The website allows researchers and others to hire or recruit people from around the world for a variety of purposes. All 810 participants in this study were from the United States.
To test different factors in collaboration, participants played a variety of games. Each person was initially given 1,000 monetary units equal to one dollar in real money that they could keep. If one player agreed to pay another 50 monetary units (five cents), the second person would pick up 100 units (10 cents). Each of the 16-round games in the study included approximately 25 participants. Some players participated in multiple games with different scenarios.
Some games created random networks where people could interact, while others created clustered networks of small groups with multiple connections, much like social groups that develop in the workplace. Within these networks, there were static groups, in which a participant could only interact with assigned partners for the duration of a game, and dynamic groups, where participants could change out partners and form new connections at any time.
Collaboration rates were high overall, especially when players could replace one partner with another.
“What really seems to matter is the ability to alter the structure of a network,” Melamed says. “And the pattern of relationships also made a difference. Those in a known cluster with multiple connections collaborated more, which seems intuitive if you think about how we interact in the real world.”
These findings, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could have a variety of implications in coaching. Since coaching is a highly collaborative process, be sure that the fit is right between both you and a potential client. Also, consider how this information could impact team coaching interactions, or how these insights could help a leader who is struggling to build effective teams. How else do you think these findings could apply to coaching? Share in the comments.