Are we prone to telling little white lies when collaborating?

Business teamCollaboration is an increasing part of modern working life, and the dynamics between team members when we collaborate is something I’ve touched on a few times over the years.

One topic that hasn’t received so much attention however is the truthfulness of communications within the group.  Are we prone to telling little white lies if it is deemed to be for the good of the team?

That was the question posed by a recent study led by researchers from Nottingham University.

The honesty of collaborative environments

The study built on previous research that explored our willingness to tell lies when we are faced with a situation whereby a friend will benefit from the lie.  Does the same apply when two or more people benefit equally from the lie?

Teams were divided, with one member in an isolated room connected to the other via intercom.  They were asked to roll a dice and report the score to their teammate, who would then also roll a dice and report the number back.

If the two teammates scored the same number, they would receive a cash prize equivalent to that number.  No match meant no prize.

As you can imagine, there were many opportunities for lying and collusion.  For instance, the first person would benefit from rolling a high number, especially if their colleague reported a match.

Despite operating in isolation, it quickly became apparent that collusion was quite simple to engineer, with lying proving to be rife in the experiment.  There were five times as many matches as statistics would suggest there should be, with a disproportionate number of those being of high numbers.

The level of lying fell down again when the spoils were given only to one person, suggesting an interesting potential side effect of collaboration.

Suffice to say, this is one small experiment of just two person teams, so it would be foolhardy to read too much into the results, but it does nonetheless suggest a possible dark side to our drive towards more collaborative working.


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