Dr LIC's Krazy SyEnce Korner Again
More NUMBERS for all y'all. This time courtesy of the brightest minds at Northwestern's Kellogg Business School (some of these guys are friends of mine, which I should both admit and apologize to them for potentially butchering my interpretation of their results below...anyway, on with it!)
In a paper currently under review titled, "Meritocracy, Cooperation, and Performance," Adam Galinsky and colleagues analyze the performance of a sampling of 282 professional NBA teams from 1997 to 2008 and demonstrate a simple formula:
meritocracy leads to cooperation, which in turn improves performance.
What is particularly interesting, however, is how meritocracy is measured, which is by two variables: pay dispersion, starting dispersion, and participation differentiation. Pay dispersion is the extent to which there exists a range of salaries on a given team such that some players are very highly paid and some are very minimally paid (pay dispersion would be low on a team with relatively "flat" salaries--where everyone is pretty much being paid the same). The authors measure this using the standard deviation of player salaries on each team. Starting dispersion, which really constituted a measure of how much status was dispersed across players, was measured by standard deviation of starting positions for each team during a given season. Participation differentiation was measured by the standard deviation of playing time for each team during a given season. High levels of pay dispersion, starting dispersion, and participation differentiation meant that teams were operating more in terms of a meritocracy than in some sort of pseudo-socialist all-for-one system.
Cooperation--intragroup cooperation--was measured (and feel free to debate this in the comments) using a combined measure of assists, defensive rebounds, and field goal percentage. And performance was simply measured as winning percentage.
The takeaway is that using some seriously gritty statistical modeling, the data supported their assumption. Teams that are more meritocratic--those that have greater disparities between stars and nonstars--show more cooperation, and in turn win more. Pay dispersion was the variable that overarchingly accounted for this effect.
What is impressive about these studies is that they use field data to corroborate previous experimental and cross-sectional work in the social sciences showing the benefits of hierarchy on cooperation (i.e. "know your role" is a good strategy for promoting teamwork). What's more, I think these data say something counterintuitive about NBA conventional wisdom, which is that having max salaries on the tab can be a good thing if it establishes a clear pecking order...and the very teams that show the most cooperation don't do so because they are all equal serfs, but because there is deference to the gawd at the top of the roster.
Commenters, what say you?