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Unethical Teams Case

We often think of unethical behavior as individual behavior. However, in many cases, unethical behavior is a team effort. The Enron, Adelphia, and WorldCom corporate scandals were brewed by members of the top management teams in these organizations.
The BP oil disaster
implicated several teams that failed to ensure construction and safety guidelines were followed. Do these examples show that team unethical
behavior is limited to top management teams, or can it also occur with “ordinary” work teams?

A study of 126 three-member teams of undergraduates suggests that unethical team behavior can occur beyond top management teams. In this
study, teams were given a problem on which to work, with the following instructions:

You are assigned a team project in one of your finance courses. Your team waits until the last minute to being working. To save time, a
friend suggests using an old project out of his fraternity files. Does your team go along with this plan?
How many of the teams decided to cheat? About 37 percent decided to use the old project.

Because this exercise was hypothetical, the authors also studied team cheating in another way—by allowing teams to self-grade a “decoy”
assignment (an aspect of their assignment that did not in reality exist) that counted as 2 percent of their course grade. How many teams
cheated here? About one in four. 

This study found that team cheating was greater when a team was composed of utilitarian members (those who think the ends justify the
means). However, utilitarian attitudes were more likely to translate into team cheating when team members felt interpersonally “safe”—when
they felt there waslittle risk within the team of being attacked or ridiculed for propositions or arguments they made.

The upshot? It appears that in the right circumstances, all types of teams are capable of behaving unethically. By holding individual team
members accountable, and by providing a climate of “voice” where dissenting team members feel free to speak up, managers can discourage
team unethical behavior.

Do you know for certain that you would have refused to agree to the unethical behavior in the experiment?
Do you think the team nature of the decision makes it more likely or less likely that individuals will choose to behave unethically?
In this study, all team members were required to sign a response form indicating they agreed with the decision. Do you think the results
would change if consensus or a signature was not required?


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