What makes employees collaborate

SITE (Science, Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship)

Speaker:Dr Letian Zhang, Harvard Business School
Date: Tuesday 23 March 2021
Time: 14:30 - 15:30
Location: Via Zoom - link available from

Further details


A fundamental question in social science is what make people collaborate. This question has become increasingly relevant for organizations, as a growing number of jobs today require extensive teamwork and collaboration. We theorize that a firm’s prosocial mission could help improve collaboration through two distinct mechanisms: (a) increasing cooperative behavior among employees and (b) attracting more collaboration-oriented employees into the workplace. Analyzing over 120 million job postings, we first show that firms requiring extensive collaboration tend to display a much higher prosocial orientation, and firms are much more likely to emphasize their prosocial mission when advertising for positions that require collaboration. To understand mechanisms, we worked with a real firm and conducted one field experiment and a number of lab studies. Results suggest that working for a prosocial firm significantly increases people’s trust, reciprocity, and altruism in collaborating with others, but does not appear to attract more collaborative workers. These results suggest that an organization’s prosocial mission contributes to employee collaboration, but mostly through changing cooperative behavior as opposed to selecting more prosocial candidates. 


Letian Zhang is an assistant professor of business administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. Dr. Zhang has a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard and a B.S. in mathematics from Stanford. Professor Zhang studies social inequality in firms and markets. His research draws on sociological theories to understand disparities involving social class, race, and gender, and status.  Professor Zhang’s work covers a wide range of empirical settings including financial markets, mergers and acquisitions, sports, entrepreneurship, and Chinese labor markets. He has published in Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science, and in peer-reviewed mathematics journals.