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Management research

The impact of managers

An experimental study from the University of Southern Denmark shows how managers can act opportunistically and try to manipulate their subordinates. Watch a video about the study.

Managers are in certain conditions inclined to strategically exploit their subordinates when given the opportunity. Specifically, by giving themselves less in early stages of the experiment, they sometimes manage to lure workers into contributing more, which increases overall team effort, but then offers the manager the opportunity to disproportionally reward themselves towards the end of the experiment.

This is one of the results of a study that was conducted by Stephan Billinger and Stephen Mark Rosenbaum from the Department of Marketing & Management.

The researchers set up a laboratory experiment to analyze the impact of managers on worker collaboration. In addition to the so-called public goods game, which is used to test people’s willingness to cooperate to joint work effort in situations where some people can gain from freeriding, they included the role of a manager and various degrees of managerial discretion.

Relevant for the design of organizations

A central finding in the study is the importance of the hierarchy. It turned out that the hierarchy fosters cooperative behavior and outperforms a setting without a manager but is also rather detrimental in some conditions.

According to the researchers, the results are important for the design of hierarchies in organizations and how much discretion managers should have in order to prevent managerial opportunism.

Find out more about the study and findings in this video

Read the article: Discretionary mechanisms and cooperation in hierarchies: An experimental study, which is published in the Journal of Economic Psychology

Read the article: The usefulness of managers, which is published in The Economist
Stephan Billinger

Stephan Billinger is Professor WSR at the Department of Marketing & Management. He focuses on organizational micro-mechanisms, including how decision-makers can strategically foster cooperation and competition within organizations.


Stephen Mark Rosenbaum

Stephen Mark Rosenbaum is Associate Professor at the Department of Marketing & Management. In his research he focuses on international marketing channels, strategic alliances and internationalization processes especially within new markets.