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The Dilemma Portfolio

by Kevin W Rockmann and Gregory Northcraft

Collective action is at the heart of successful organizations. Successful collective actions can be elusive, however, given that organizational actors can see some collective actions as social dilemmas, where actors have incentive to not contribute but if all adopt this strategy the collective action fails. Unfortunately, much of the research on traditional social dilemmas is limited due to the lack of contextual factors likely to be critical in organizational settings. We articulate a portfolio approach to the study of social dilemmas in the organizational context, arguing that to understand dilemma behavior is to understand each actor’s portfolio of collective actions, goals to purse, resources to allocate, and partners with whom to collaborate. We provide social dilemma illustrations at the individual, team, unit, and firm levels and discuss how such phenomena could be studied within the portfolio approach. The intent is that the organizational researcher, in addition to the social dilemma researcher, will see social dilemmas as a way to understand how and why actors allocate scarce personal and organizational resources to collective actions when incentives suggest otherwise, and as a consequence, why some organizational collective actions succeed while others fail.

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