Different lengths of collaboration with colleagues at work is a central feature of modern working life, and even more so in a work environment that is increasingly project focused and knowledge-intensive. Despite its practical importance, there is little research on how the perceived costs and benefits in an information-sharing dilemma might change depending on collaboration length. Based on a social dilemma framework, it is hypothesised that anticipated length of collaboration time will significantly influence the motivation to collaborate.
An experimental scenario study (N = 87) compared the willingness to work collaboratively, share information and help the partner in a long-term (two academic terms) vs a short-term (one week) condition.
At first somewhat counter-intuitively, participants were more helpful in the short-term, and insisted more on equality and disengaged more from a defecting partner – but not the project – in the long-term condition. People appear to focus more on the immediate task in short-term collaborations – even at cost – because the outcome is more important than the relationship, and more on setting norms for equality and reciprocity in long-term collaborations to avoid future exploitation.
The findings help understanding the motivation and the partner and task perception under different time conditions and support managing teams in an increasingly project-oriented work environment with changing partners and varying time frames.
To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first paper investigating the influence of anticipated collaboration time in information-sharing dilemmas.
The authors would like to thank Ulrich Klocke for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and Jana Pieper for support with the data analysis. An earlier and reduced version of this paper was presented at the Small Group Meeting on “Time and Change in Teams” of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology EAWOP, 24-26 February 2011, Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany.
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