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Observability and Overcoming Coordination Failure in Organizations. An Experimental Study

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  • Jordi Brandts
  • David J. Cooper

Abstract

Many organizations suffer poor performance because its members fail to coordinate on efficient patterns of behavior. In previous research, we have shown that financial incentives can be used to find a way out of such performance traps. Here we examine the sensitivity of this result to the ability of people to observe others' choices. Our experiments are set in a corporate environment where subjects' payoffs depend on coordinating at high effort levels; the underlying game being played repeatedly by the employees of an experimental firm is a weak-link game. Treatments vary along two dimensions. First, subjects either start with low financial incentives for coordination, which typically leads to coordination failure, and then are switched to higher incentives or start with high incentives, which typically yield effective coordination, and are switched to low incentives. Second, as the key treatment variable, subjects either observe the effort levels chosen by all employees in their experimental firm (full feedback) or observe only the minimum effort (limited feedback). We find three primary results: (1) The use of full feedback improves the ability of organizations to overcome coordination failure, (2) The use of full feedback has no effect on the ability of successful organizations to avoid slipping into coordination failure, and (3) History-dependence is strengthened by the use of full feedback.

Suggested Citation

  • Jordi Brandts & David J. Cooper, 2004. "Observability and Overcoming Coordination Failure in Organizations. An Experimental Study," Working Papers 143, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bge:wpaper:143
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Roberto Weber & Colin Camerer & Marc Knez, 2004. "Timing and Virtual Observability in Ultimatum Bargaining and “Weak Link” Coordination Games," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 7(1), pages 25-48, February.
    2. Theo Offerman & Jan Potters & Joep Sonnemans, 2002. "Imitation and Belief Learning in an Oligopoly Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 973-997.
    3. Huck, Steffen & Normann, Hans-Theo & Oechssler, Jorg, 2000. "Does information about competitors' actions increase or decrease competition in experimental oligopoly markets?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 39-57, January.
    4. C.Mónica Capra & Tomomi Tanaka & ColinF. Camerer & Lauren Feiler & Veronica Sovero & CharlesN. Noussair, 2009. "The Impact of Simple Institutions in Experimental Economies with Poverty Traps," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(539), pages 977-1009, July.
    5. Antoni Bosch-DomËnech & Nicolaas J. Vriend, 2003. "Imitation of successful behaviour in cournot markets," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(487), pages 495-524, April.
    6. Van Huyck, John B & Battalio, Raymond C & Beil, Richard O, 1990. "Tacit Coordination Games, Strategic Uncertainty, and Coordination Failure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(1), pages 234-248, March.
    7. Jordi Brandts & David J. Cooper, 2006. "A Change Would Do You Good .... An Experimental Study on How to Overcome Coordination Failure in Organizations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 669-693, June.
    8. Fernando Vega-Redondo, 1997. "The Evolution of Walrasian Behavior," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(2), pages 375-384, March.
    9. Cooper, David J. & Kagel, John H., 2003. "The impact of meaningful context on strategic play in signaling games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 311-337, March.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Incentives; Coordination; Observation; experiments; Organizations;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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