Without the right company culture it’s difficult to cooperate spontaneously

By January 16, 2012
Cooperation through social network needs a company culture

Transposing the results of an experiment on cooperation among students to a company environment, we see that workplace collaboration depends largely on the culture of the company and its employees.


To get people to cooperate in a social network you need to implement appropriate tools to help them to express themselves and exchange information, plus having a suitable environment for these practices to take root.  Researchers carried out a study among over a thousand Spanish students, in a real social network, assessing the level of cooperation between them using a game based on the well-known prisoner’s dilemma. The researchers were able to ascertain that even if the advantage of two parties working together is made clear from the very beginning, very few people tended to cooperate on a regular basis. While 5% of the guinea pigs were seen to cooperate regularly, 35% never collaborated and 60% only did so when the fancy took them - when it was clearly in their interests, or they had cooperated with the same person in the past, etc. "We observe the same participation ratio on companies’ collaborative platforms,” Pierre Milcent, consultant for company social networks at IBM, told L'Atelier.

Companies show similar cooperation rates

"A small percentage of staff make an active contribution, sending information, while another much larger number act as receivers, getting involved just to obtain information," he added. Others simply remain aloof from the system. The actions of company employees are thus no more than a reflection of a sociological organisation, a feature of the human species. If the results of the study are to be believed, the capacity for cooperation also involves other criteria. According to the study, girls cooperate more than boys - around 10% more, and students in Humanities subjects cooperate 4% more often than those in technological disciplines. But Pierre Milcent believes involvement depends primarily on the company or group culture. "If there’s no real interest in disseminating and sharing information, a social network will never revolutionise the way staff interact" he stressed.

Forced collaboration doesn’t work long term

But beyond these statistics, are there any solutions for persuading people to collaborate more? Basically, no, as people usually find it hard to act against their own nature or under duress. The Spanish researchers pointed to the sometimes positive influence of reprimand on the one hand, or being able to establish links with whomever you want to on the other. But neither of these features is really relevant to company life. "Using a system of points or badges to place value on cooperation may bring results during the tactical phase when the network is just taking off," explains Pierre Milcent. It’s a process that works very well in the US-UK cultural sphere, which tends to appreciate this type of individual visibility, but it works far less well in France. It’s also possible to offer material rewards for collaboration - for creating content, coordinating a community, sharing information, etc - but for the majority of professions it remains very difficult to index employee performance to this type of criteria.

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