10:16pm Tuesday 28 January 2020

Territorial behaviour at work can be a mistake

Guarding your turf at the office? It may be better to give up ownership over projects and ideas than risk your reputation, says a forthcoming study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Sandra Robinson of UBC's Sauder School of Business.“Previous research holds that it’s good for employees to take ownership at work as a way to enhance leadership, pride and commitment,” says Sauder Prof. Sandra Robinson, co-author of the forthcoming study to be published in the journal Personnel Psychology. “However, our study shows that ownership can lead to territorial behaviour that has a significant downside in some workplaces.”

Sandra Robinson of UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

For the study, participants from a wide variety of industries completed surveys assessing their feelings of ownership of projects, ideas, relationships and objects, as well as their tendency to act on their feelings through territorial behaviours, such as locking documents to restrict input or withholding ideas to limit their theft.

Close coworkers were then asked to complete follow-up surveys to assess the quality of first round participants’ contributions at work. They were also asked to rate the overall sense of trust in their workplace.

The results show that in workplaces where trust is low, territorial behaviour tends to flourish and territorial people are less likely to be judged negatively by their coworkers.

In workplaces where a sense of trust is common, people turn less to territorial behaviour. However, those who display it are far more likely to be singled out by their colleagues as poor contributors.

“Workers really need to assess the atmosphere of the workplace before they start staking their ground,” says Robinson.  “If they start claiming turf in an office where a sense of trust pervades they could quickly find themselves on the outs.”

A version of the forthcoming paper is available on request.

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