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Citizenship &
Counterproductive
PERFORMANCE
in the NBA & NHL

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In the sports arena as in the office, leaders can decrease


counterproductive behaviour by engendering organizational
commitment and perceptions of fairness.

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by Maria Rotundo

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Traditionally, job performance has been


measured in terms of specific task-related
statements and behaviours: did an employee
accomplish the list of tasks set out in the job
description? Current approaches pay attention to a much broader range of behaviours
that, when present, add value to an organization by helping it achieve its goals and by
contributing to the social and psychological
work environment.
Various names have been given to such
behaviours, including organizational citi62 Rotman Magazine Fall 2006

zenship behaviour (OCB) and contextual


performance, and they have been described
in broad terms such as altruism, sportsmanship, courtesy, and civic virtue. Increased
attention is also being given to deviant and
aggressive behaviours in the workplace, as
the number of these incidents is on the rise.
Generally speaking, counterproductive
behaviour can be defined as intentional
behaviour on the part of a member that is
viewed by the organization as contrary to its
interests.The spectrum of counterproduc-

tive performance includes behaviours ranging from theft to poor quality of work.
My focus here is on a subset of the
behaviours that help peers or teams with
organizationally-relevant tasks: altruism,
which involves helping and cooperating
with others, and interpersonal facilitation,
which involves maintaining personal discipline, compliance and useful personal
behaviour. On the negative side, I will focus
on personal aggression and unruliness, which
describe aggressive actions that are directed

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Maria Rotundo

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Citizenship
Counterproductive

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at coworkers or the organization and that


create a negative work environment.
Professional sports teams have been
examined in organizational research to
answer a number of important questions.
The present study relies on individual and
team-level data from the NBA and NHL to
provide objective measures of task, citizenship, and counterproductive performance
over time, in an effort to determine
whether these behaviours are ingrained in
the individual or dynamic and therefore,

possibly malleable for the betterment of an


organization.
Citizenship Behaviour
in Professional Sports

The main goal of professional basketball


and hockey players is to shoot the ball in the
basket or shoot the puck in the net. Hence,
scoring a basket or goal is an example of
what the performance literature has traditionally defined as task performance. Like
individuals in most organizations, members

of sports teams engage in a variety of


behaviours in the process of attempting to
achieve task performance, some of which
are positive, and others negative.
For example, a player who is in possession of the ball or puck may pass it to a
teammate who is in a better position to
score, and if that teammate scores, an assist
is recorded for the player who passed the
ball or puck. An alternative action in which
the player can engage instead of passing the
ball is to take a long shot, that is to shoot
Rotman Magazine Fall 2006 63

This document is authorized for educator review use only by Fadi Hachem American University of Science & Technology until October 2011. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright.
Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860

For the exclusive use of F. Hachem

Another example of a behaviour that players engage in while attempting to score a


goal, defend the basket, or prevent the
opponent from scoring is illegal body contact, which results in a penalty or a foul. In
hockey, a penalty occurs when a player
commits an infraction such as holding,
cross-checking, roughing, or tripping,
which leaves the team one player short for
the duration of the penalty.
In order for an organizational behaviour to be considered counterproductive,
two criteria must be satisfied: that the person intended to cause harm, and that the
behaviour is viewed by the organization as

Citizenship performance may be more


frequent in certain jobs than in others.
Thus, it is important to note that in sports,
the extent to which players engage in assists
may depend on the position they play.
contrary to its legitimate interests. The
criteria of intent can be a tricky one to
demonstrate. Nevertheless, the following
examples are intended to illustrate two different types of penalties, one that reflects
unintentional behaviour on the part of a
hockey player and another that reflects
intentional behaviour.
Envision a player who is in possession of
the puck and skating toward the net in an
attempt to score a goal. A player on the
opposing team attempts to steal the puck
from him and in the process, accidentally
trips the player and is called for tripping. In
this example, the player without possession
was trying to steal the puck from the opponent rather than trying to trip the opponent;
however, the player failed in his objective to
steal the puck, made an error, or had poor
skill in stealing the puck. In this example,
the player did not intend to cause harm.
Contrast this example with the following situations: a player is checked legally by
an opponent and retaliates with excessive
aggression or instigates a fight and is given a
penalty; or, a player illegally cross-checks

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helps team members and the team achieve


task performance. Furthermore, it can be
argued that an assist is an example of OCB
that falls under altruism, helping coworkers, or interpersonal facilitation.
Some researchers have argued that citizenship performance may be more
relevant or frequent in certain jobs than in
others.Thus, it is important to note that in
sports, the extent to which players engage
in assists may depend on the position they
play. For example, one of the responsibilities of a guard is to defend the net from
opponents. Thus, it is expected that guards
who obtain possession of the ball in the
process of defending the net will pass it forward to someone who will attempt to score
a basket. One could argue that such assists
are expected from guards and thus, are not
as altruistic as assists by forwards: forwards
are expected to score, so one could argue
that an assist by a forward is more likely to
be viewed as an altruistic act, because they
are giving a teammate an opportunity to
increase his or her points per game.

64 Rotman Magazine Fall 2006

the opponent from behind in an attempt to


stop an opponent from getting to the puck.
In these examples, it is more difficult to
argue that the player did not intend to
cause harm. In a more extreme example of
intent to harm, a player punches an opponent repeatedly, as was the case when
Anaheims Jim McKensie punched Dallas
Darryl Sydor continuously in the back of
the head, even though Sydor lay facedown
on the ice. McKensies behaviour is said by
some to have been premeditated. Thus, it
could be argued that penalties in which
intent is clear fall under personal aggression
(defined as aggressive or hostile acts towards
other individuals) because the behaviours
that lead to penalties involve aggression that
exceeds the appropriate limits specified in
the rulebook. In the two very different
examples above, the behaviours that produce the penalty calls differ in whether or
not they are intentional, and hence in
whether or not they satisfy one of the criteria for counterproductive behaviour.
The second criterion is that the behaviour must run contrary to the interest of
the organization.A penalty clearly puts the
team at a disadvantage, because the team
must play one player short for the duration
of the penalty, making it easier for the
opponent to score, and reducing the likelihood that their own team will score during
the penalty. In fact, 27 per cent of the total
goals scored during the 2003/04 NHL season were power-play goals . Thus, since a
penalty puts the team at a disadvantage, it
satisfies the second criterion for counterproductive behaviour.
Hockey has a reputation for being an
aggressive and even violent sport. Some
critics argue that fighting is so commonplace
that players are increasingly worried about
flagrant attacks. Observations like this one
make it easier to infer or argue that the
overly-aggressive behaviours that produce
penalty calls are in fact intentional. In fact,
there were 47 suspensions in the 2003/04
season resulting from aggressive acts. Thus,
certain behaviours that produce a penalty
(i.e. instigating a fight, use of profanity) satisfy both criteria for counterproductive
behaviour, while others (e.g., tripping, high
sticking) only satisfy the second criteria and
arise naturally in the sport. Thus, not all
types of penalties qualify as being labelled

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Counterproductive Behaviour in Sports

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the ball or puck in an effort to score the


basket or goal himself and to increase his or
her points per game.
The sports literature often labels players who rarely pass the ball or puck, and
instead choose to take long shots, ball
hogs or puck hogs. In a profile of
LeBron James, the NBAs number one
draft choice in 2003, one journalist wrote,
I love to watch LeBron pass. Hes not
going to be a ball hog and take 25 shots a
night. Star basketball players are often criticized for playing a one man show when
they take too many long shots instead of
passing to teammates. Thus, one could
argue that an assist is a cooperative act that

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No

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to be changing their rank over time, which


indicates the presence of dynamic criteria.
My second hypothesis was that individual players will demonstrate varying
patterns of changes in job performance
over time. At the individual and team levels
of analyses, my findings supported a
decreasing trend for all three types of performance,
with
one
exception:
counterproductive performance in hockey
exhibited an increasing trend at the team
level of analysis.
Although the results provide support
for a general decrease in performance over
time following a linear trend, one may
argue that the change in performance over
time is not extreme. For example, a visual
inspection of the mean change in performance over time for basketball players reveals
that performance is relatively stable. However, the extent to which performance
change is practically significant can be
debated; for example, a decrease of one
basket or goal per game may explain the
difference between making it into the playoffs or not.
A similar inspection of the results for
hockey reveals that performance increases
initially and then decreases. One possible
explanation for the difference in findings
between hockey and basketball is that,
more often than not, basketball players
attend college and are drafted to the NBA
during or after college. However, hockey

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In these examples, fouls are intentional,


but although they satisfy the criteria of
intent, they do not satisfy the criteria of
contrary to the organizations interest,
because the team believes it is in its best
interest to foul the opponent, since it gains
possession of the ball and has an opportunity
to score. However, technical fouls satisfy
both criteria.Thus, although all fouls in basketball do not exactly fit the organizational
literatures definition of counterproductive
performance, many fouls do.
The Stability of Performance Over Time

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In my study, I examined mean performance


scores over time for evidence of change.
Mean performance scores and correlation
coefficients were computed on 10-years
worth of basketball and hockey player data
for assists and fouls, as well as baskets and
goals. Means and correlation coefficients
were also computed on 20-years worth of
team data.
My first hypothesis was that OCB and
counterproductive performance are
dynamic over time, and therefore are not
engrained in an individuals performance,
and for the most part, the results supported
this. For example, the average basketball
player scores approximately 0.05 assists per
minute in their first year, or approximately
2.4 assists per game (assuming a 48-minute
game) and 0.04 assists per minute or 1.92
assists per game in Year 10.The average bas-

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counterproductive behaviour as defined in


the organizational literature. However, there
are enough examples in which intent can be
inferred and that run counter to the interests of the organization.
In basketball, players often attempt to
block a shot being taken by the opponent,
and in the process, make illegal contact
with the player, and are called for a foul: a
personal foul is defined as illegal body contact between opposing players (i.e holding,
charging, tripping, blocking, pushing, or
interference); a technical foul is unsportsmanlike conduct such as the use of
profanity or disrespectfully addressing an
official. Fouls in basketball are not directly
comparable to penalties in hockey. Thus,
we will discuss the extent to which a foul in
basketball satisfies the criteria for counterproductive performance.
On the criteria of intent, there are
times when intent cannot be inferred. For
example, fouls may occur when a player is
attempting to block an opponents shot but
makes illegal physical contact instead. In
this situation the player is not intentionally
inflicting harm, but rather trying to
achieve task performance, and is unsuccessful in doing so. In this example, the
behaviour does not satisfy the criteria of
intent but does satisfy the criteria of contrary to the organizational interests,
because a player can be fouled out of the
game after reaching six personal fouls or
two technical fouls, thereby reducing the
total amount of playing time for that player.
Furthermore, teams suffer when their star
players are fouled out of the game.
There are also instances during a basketball game when players intentionally make
illegal physical contact with an opponent and
intend to commit a foul, or when players or
coaches engage in profanity and are called on
a technical foul. Some of these fouls are
strategic; for example, in the last minutes of a
game, the losing team may decide to intentionally foul an opponent (forcing him to the
free-throw line) so that their team gains
possession of the ball after the free throw and
has a chance to score more points. A wellknown example is the Hack-a-Shaq, which
occurred when teams consistently fouled the
Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille
ONeal during the 2003/04 season, when his
free throw percentage was only 49 per cent.

There are times when intent cannot be


inferred. For example, fouls may occur
when a player is attempting to block an
opponents shot but makes illegal physical
contact instead.
ketball player scores approximately 0.16
baskets per minute or 7.7 baskets per game
(also assuming a 48 minute game) in Year
One and 0.12 baskets per minute or 5.7
baskets per game in Year Ten. A review of
the correlation coefficients indicates that
the correlation coefficients become smaller
as the time interval between years
increases. Thus, individuals are considered

players are more likely to join the NHL


directly from high school. Thus, one could
argue that the average basketball player
who attends college has anywhere from
two to four more years of practice over the
average hockey player. Thus, the initial
increase in performance for basketball players may have occurred during college, and
hence we do not see the early increase in
Rotman Magazine Fall 2006 65

This document is authorized for educator review use only by Fadi Hachem American University of Science & Technology until October 2011. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright.
Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860

For the exclusive use of F. Hachem

Maria Rotundo is the David Y. Timbrell Associate Professor


of Human Resource Management and Organizational
Behaviour at the Rotman School. For a copy of her research
paper on this topic, e-mail christen@rotman.utoronto.ca

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Prior research has indicated that individuals


possess different patterns of change in performance, and one objective of my study
was to investigate whether these findings
generalize to citizenship and counterproductive performance. My findings indicate
that individuals do possess different patterns of change in both helping and
aggressive behaviour.
Individuals and teams demonstrate different performance patterns, and it is no

Prior research has shown that group


cohesiveness and transformational leadership are positively related to altruism, while
perceptions of unjust organizational policies
and practices have led to retaliatory behaviours. Furthermore, aggression may result
when pay systems are perceived to be unfair.
Managers who want to increase organizational citizenship behaviours and decrease
counterproductive behaviour should focus on
engendering employee satisfaction, organizational commitment, perceptions of fairness,
and trust in leadership, all of which create an
environment that is encourages and supports
altruistic acts. At the same time, they should
monitor levels of role ambiguity and role
conflict, both of which negatively affect
altruism and workplace sportsmanship.

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Conclusions

small wonder, given the varied environmental inputs. My purpose here was to extend
the research on dynamic criteria to examples of citizenship and counterproductive
performance, namely altruistic acts and
aggression or personal discipline respectively, at the individual and team levels.The
results suggest that both types of performance are indeed dynamic and demonstrate a
decreasing trend over time, with one exception: counterproductive performance for
hockey players increases over time.
The findings that altruistic and aggressive acts are dynamic suggest that these
behaviours are potentially malleable, and can
be therefore altered. This is consistent with
the body of research that suggests that different situational factors that result in different
levels of citizenship and counterproductive
performance. For example, an employee may
be predisposed to exhibit high organizational
citizenship behaviour or counterproductive
behaviour, but may demonstrate different
degrees of these behaviours, depending on
the environmental characteristics.

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our data as we do with the hockey players.


When I reanalyzed the hockey data,
excluding the first four years of player data,
the results replicated those for basketball
(i.e., performance demonstrated a decreasing linear trend over time). This finding
supports prior research which reported
that task performance increases initially,
and then decreases in subsequent years.
Furthermore, this finding also supports the
notion that performance consists of transition and maintenance stages.

This document is authorized for educator review use only by Fadi Hachem American University of Science & Technology until October 2011. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright.
Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860