How your feedback style impacts levels of competition and collaboration

H2R Performance Management Module provides a dynamic approach to setting performance objectives and providing feedback that assists managers to increase collaboration amongst teams.
Research conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, which was first published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making has discovered that how a manager sets objectives and provides feedback can impact levels of competition and collaboration amongst team members.

Feedback is Crucial

Examine any successful organisation, and regardless of its size, industry, or location you will see that an important aspect of achieving that success has been managers providing employees with regular, consistent, and comprehensive feedback on their performance. 

Knowing how well someone is doing at their job is a key element in maintaining and improving that person’s performance as an individual and the teams they are members of.

Different Styles – Different Results

How do different types of feedback impact interactions among employees?

Given the increasing emphasis on the need for teamwork in the workplace researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the IESE Business School in Barcelona have investigated which types of feedback tend to lead to cooperative behaviours and which to competitive behaviours.

Laboratory Experiments

Classic Public Goods Game

  • Each participant received a fixed number of points to invest per round. Over ten rounds, they decided how many points they wanted to invest in a group project and how many in their own individual project.

Scenario One

  • In the first scenario, if the participants exhibited cooperative behaviours, they would on average achieve a better score for the group, but to a worse score on the personal level.

Points Make Prizes

  • The rewards for cooperative behaviour differed across the two experimental scenarios. This impacted the participants’ scores, and ultimately how much money they would receive at the end of the game.

Scenario Two

  • In the second scenario, cooperation rewarded both the group and the individual. Uncooperative behaviour reduced the overall score but harmed the other players more than the individual.

Impact of Feedback

After each round, the participants were given feedback

Individualistic Feedback

On their own individual performance
The participants who were given individual feedback behaved cooperatively in the cooperative scenario and increasingly selfishly in the competitive scenario as the rounds progressed.

Ranking Feedback

On how they ranked relative to others
The participants who were given feedback about how they ranked in relation to the other participants perceived what was supposed to be a cooperative scenario as a competitive scenario.

Joint Outcome Feedback

On the performance of the group as a whole.
Participants who were given feedback on the performance of the group as a whole, were generally interested in maintaining cooperation, throughout the game regardless of the scenario.

Negative Impact of Ranking

Even though the achieving a high ranking had no impact the financial reward that the participants received many of the participants who received ranking feedback rejected behaviours that would result in a higher financial reward in order to achieve a higher ranking.
As the rounds of the game progressed the participants who were receiving ranking feedback became increasingly competitive, even though this was to their own detriment.

More, More, More

Given ranking feedback, an above-average number of the participants developed into competitive players.

This group of participants were unique in reporting that they wanted to have more than the other players and that they did not trust the others.

Ranking Makes Managers Competitive

Ranking feedback drives even managers with seven years’ experience, like those involved in these experiments to act competitively, even in situations where they should appreciate that cooperating would unquestionably be in the best interests of the team and the individuals

Framing the Scenario

When the focus is on comparison with others, both students and managers are willing to take financial losses for the sole purpose of inflicting even greater losses on others,” says Jan K. Woike, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “Feedback can distort people’s perceptions of a situation and turn them into competitive situations for no objective reason,” he adds.

How to Provide Feedback

The study’s findings can be applied to the question of how companies should provide feedback for their employees.

“Publicly comparing employee performance or even, in extreme cases, making bonus payments or contract renewals dependent on employee ranking is counterproductive,” says Sebastian Hafenbrädl from the IESE Business School.

Although management practices that sort employees into performance groups along a ranking scale are controversial, they continue to be used, even by well-known international companies in the IT and internet industry.

This practice makes internal disputes and uncooperative behaviour inevitable.

The researchers suggest that, providing feedback for the whole group—even in heterogeneous teams—may well be a more productive approach.

How H2R Helps

The H2R performance management module ensures that it is possible for every member of a team to be able to see the links between their individual objectives, and those of their team, department, and other areas of the business.

It should be possible, said the Abeceder H2R performance spokesperson, for an individual on the lowest level of the organisations hierarchy to see a link between their objectives and performance standards and the objectives of the whole organisation.   

Multi-Level Objectives, Multi-Level Performance Standards

With the H2R Performance Management module objectives and performance standards can be set in multiple ways.


Link what individuals do to the activities and results that a team will be responsible for


Demonstrate how the activities of multiple teams complement each other


Build connections between activities across multiple disciplines and locations


When a multi-site business needs different locations to understand the unique role each has in achieving overall success


Define the performance standards and objectives for an individual in their job role


Agree objectives that will assist the employee to develop their career

Values Based

Create objective based on the behaviours that will bring an organisations values to life

Work Life Balance

Help to identify the link between the achievement of workplace objectives and the fulfilment of lifestyle aspirations


Management Feedback

  • Because the H2R performance management module enables multiple types of objectives and performance standards to be set a manager can provide more detailed individual feedback

360 Degree

  • The H2R performance management module enables an employer and manager to collate information from multiple sources and create a 360degree picture of the individual’s performance

Someone to talk to

Want to find out more or have a performance management issue you would like to discuss with a H2R professional, please contact Abeceder

Original Publication
Woike, J. K. & Hafenbrädl, S. (2020). Rivals without a cause? Relative performance feedback creates destructive competition despite aligned incentives. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. Advance online publication.