Sunday, October 23, 2016

Comparing team production to articles

I work in a student run event planning company that functions like an RSO. For anonymity I will call it company H. We are registered as an LLC because we specialize in doing parties at clubs and bars. Although we are a company, the employees are not paid, and all of the profits are further invested into buying equipment and holding bigger events. The process of H holding an event is team production with gift exchange because the employees collectively give up their time for a sense of accomplishment from holding an event. There are experiences during my time in H that relates to the examples in the article, and some that do not.

H has three teams: creative, marketing, and music. The marketing team requests fliers and posters from the creative team, marketing distributes the material, and the music department invites musicians or prepares DJ sets that fit the theme of the party. If one team does not meet a deadline, other teams can get delayed as well, and the party can fall apart. Since planning and preparation takes weeks, members in every department frequently face deadlines that coincide with exams or major assignments. Because H does not offer any form of payment to its employees, one would expect delays from people prioritizing schoolwork during busy periods. However, we generally do not face delays from missed deadlines. Some members tell me afterwards that they even went as far as to stay up late night finishing their work for H before an exam. This could be explained through the moral lens in the "power of altruism" article. If the employees were paid an hourly rate, or per project, they would probably pass on these projects during exam time. Without pay, they instead feel a moral obligation to meet their deadlines. If they do not, they could negatively affect the entire event, or other teams that are expecting to start their work on schedule. Busy students are potentially sacrificing their school performance to fulfill an obligation to others in the organization, without any expected profit.

A few weeks ago, the president of H asked all of us to do market research on potential sponsors for our events. I thought that this was strange, considering that we have a marketing team that specializes in this field. As all members of the three teams uploaded their results on the shared google doc, I noticed that much of the work was not detailed or relevant enough to actually be used at all. Considering that 2/3 of H specialize in the visual/musical aspect of the event, this was not surprising. I could only assume that he had been receiving complaints about some members not doing work, so he tried to create fairness by giving everyone work. This seems to be the "Tit for Tat" approach mentioned in the game theory article. In order to have everyone participate equally, he gave the same assignment to everyone. I found this to be a terrible approach for many reasons. One, the whole reason why we separate members into teams is because we have different field of expertise, and different roles to fulfill. To assign everyone something that the marketing team is supposed to do actually seems more unfair to non-marketing members. Furthermore, he did not give detailed directions for the assignment. This means that people would either put in the minimum amount of work required just to say they completed the assignment, or the non-marketing members would not know what the expectations were. It is difficult to define fairness in practice. Should people be forced to put in the same amount of time? What if people are putting in different levels of effort? What if everyone is trying his/her best, but do not have the same level of productivity?

Sharing marbles is slightly more difficult to apply in this example. Everyone in H is tugging the rope to create a successful party. But the profit all goes back to the company, so it is unclear if fairness or distribution should be applied in this case. However, we could discuss the power to make decisions on how to use the profits for the company. In this case, the team leaders and the president get together in a board meeting and come up with several ways to spend the money. Then, every member gets to vote for a specific plan in a general meeting. The reasoning is that everyone contributed time into making the event possible. This is analogous to tugging the rope analogy mentioned in the sharing marbles article.


  1. This sort of organization is new to me. So I wonder if you might explain -
    (1) What will happen to H eventually? Might it get sold?
    (2) Is there something like shares of stock in H so that people have an ownership interest?
    (3) What does it mean to be President of H? Is that person a student as well?

    In other words, is this a fledgling real business or something else. I couldn't tell from how you wrote this.

    1. I don't understand the legal details of our organization either, but it is registered as an LLC. I've been told that we consider ourselves non-profit.

      As for how it exists in reality, it is basically an RSO. Everyone is a student, including the president. The founders have graduated and passed on the role of the president and leaders to us. We have capital (lighting and music equipment) that gets passed down to the next generation of members.

      The profit that we make from these events have not been on a large enough scale to bring up 2).

  2. I'm curious -- what incentives are there for people to participate in H? Can it be considered a resume builder? Is there any sort of "end game" for the RSO? Your postulation that the sudden assignment of marketing duties to everyone flies in the face of the "power of altruism" comparison you made toward the beginning. This, however, makes your organization more interesting economically. Maybe there contributions of labor were uneven between the marketing team and the rest of H? Something the President could have done that would have been more efficient and would also have been closer to the "Tit for Tat" example would have been to have everybody each do a small part of the work for finding potential sponsors, so that they assist the marketing team instead of doing their work for them. It's also possible that the President simply wanted to get some fresh ideas into the marketing sector of H, hoping that someone on another team might have relevant contacts that might have been useful. This idea is actually relevant to our class because it ties into the economics of information discussed earlier. This latter possibility also allows your "power of altruism" comparison to stand as strong as it did before while still accounting for the marketing assignment.