Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

From Crowds to Collaborators: Initiating Effort & Catalyzing Interactions Among Online Creative Workers

by Kevin Boudreau, Patrick Gaule, Karim R. Lakhani, Christoph Riedl and Anita Williams Woolley

Abstract

Online collaborative platforms have emerged as a complementary approach to traditional organizations for coordinating the collective efforts of creative workers. However, it is surprising that they result in any productive output as individuals often work without direct monetary incentives while collaborating with unknown others. In this paper, we distinguish the conditions necessary for eliciting effort from those affecting the quality of interdependent teamwork. We consider the role of incentives versus social processes in catalyzing collaboration. We test our hypotheses using a unique data set of 260 individuals randomly assigned to 52 teams tasked with developing working solutions to a complex innovation problem over 10 days, with varying monetary incentives. We find that levels of effort are driven by cash incentives and the presence of other interacting teammates. The level of collaboration, by contrast, was not sensitive to cash incentives. Instead, individuals increased their communication if teammates were also actively participating. Additionally, team performance is uniquely driven by the level of emergent interdependence, as indexed by the diversity of topics discussed and the temporal coordination of activity in short focused time periods. Our results contribute to the literature on how alternative organizational forms can be designed to solve complex innovation tasks.

Keywords: online platforms; collaboration; teams; interdependence; Motivation and Incentives; text analysis; temporal coordination; Motivation and Incentives; Online Technology; Creativity; Organizational Structure; Collaborative Innovation and Invention;

Citation:

Boudreau, Kevin, Patrick Gaule, Karim R. Lakhani, Christoph Riedl, and Anita Williams Woolley. "From Crowds to Collaborators: Initiating Effort & Catalyzing Interactions Among Online Creative Workers." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-060, January 2014.