Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

Helping You Help Me: The Role of Diagnostic (In)congruence in the Helping Process within Organizations

by Colin M. Fisher, Julianna Pillemer and Teresa M. Amabile


Through an inductive, multi-method field study at a major design firm, we investigated the helping process in project work and how that process affects the success of a helping episode, as perceived by help-givers and/or -receivers. We used daily diary entries and weekly interviews from four project teams, and a separate sample of critical incident interviews, to induce process models of successful and unsuccessful helping episodes. We found that, in unsuccessful episodes, help-givers and -receivers maintained incongruent expectations and project understandings throughout the episode, which we call diagnostic incongruence. In contrast, the parties in successful episodes engaged in aligning practices that fostered shared expectations and project understandings (i.e., diagnostic congruence). Importantly, aligning practices in successful episodes occurred before or at the beginning of episodes. We also found that people's assessments of unsuccessful episodes were often marked by intense emotionality, which sometimes led them to disregard whether the helping resulted in instrumental progress. We discuss the implications of our process model for theory and practice.

Keywords: Groups and Teams; Knowledge Management; Performance; Cooperation;


Fisher, Colin M., Julianna Pillemer, and Teresa M. Amabile. "Helping You Help Me: The Role of Diagnostic (In)congruence in the Helping Process within Organizations." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-003, July 2013.