Why it really is better to give…

monkeyshelpingeachotherIt shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone, but the more the members of an organisation help one another the more successfully they are all likely to be.

Indeed, a recent study by Michigan State University, even suggests that co-operation is a key element in the evolutionary process and groups that indulge in largely selfish behaviour are likely to face extinction.

Why then do so many organisations make so little effort to encourage information sharing and co-operation between their members?

The benefits of co-operation

Studies conducted by Indiana University have shown that greater co-operation leads to higher sales revenues in retail stores; better profits, costs and customer service in banks; greater creativity in consulting and engineering firms; and increased revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction and performance quality in restaurants.

When employees do share their knowledge and skills with each other, organisations experience a range of benefits –

  • Problems are solved more quickly and work is completed faster
  • Team cohesion and coordination is enhanced
  • Expertise is passed on more effectively from experienced to new employees
  • There is less variability in performance when some members are overloaded or distracted
  • An environment is created in which customers and suppliers feel that their needs are the organisation’s top priority.

Cultural barriers to helping

Few companies are managing to fully realise these benefits however, often because their company culture doesn’t support or encourage helping.

Many organisations are winner-takes-all environments, where departments and individuals compete against each other for budgets, promotions and rewards. As a result, most individuals only offer help when they think they’ll get at least as much, if not more, in return. Even those more predisposed to helping others eventually stop offering up their ideas and time, and start protecting themselves in order to ensure their share of the rewards available.

Givers, Takers and Matchers

In a McKinsy Quarterly article, Adam Grant outlined three types of organisational cultures, reflecting the various different approaches to co-operation and helping-behaviour;

  1. Giver cultures – members help each other, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring and making connections without expecting anything in return.
  2. Taker cultures – members are focused on getting as much as possible for themselves while contributing less in return. There is little regard for any potential organisational benefits.
  3. Matcher cultures – most organisations fall into this middle category where employees help those who help them, maintaining a balance of give and take. Although this culture enjoys some of the benefits of giving, they are limited by the closed-loops in which employees tend to operate – seeking help only from those they already know and trust, rather than being able to go out to the entire organisation and find those experts best able to help, whether they already have a connection or not.

Three ways in which organisations can develop a more ‘giving-culture’…

  1. Encourage help seeking – studies suggest that 75-90% of all help given in organisations is in response to direct requests from colleagues, yet many people are reluctant to ask for help. Organisations can help overcome this reticence by actively developing a ‘supportive’ culture in which people are comfortable asking for and giving help without worrying about looking incapable or incompetent or being a burden to their colleagues.
  2. Recognise and reward giving – ideally ‘giving’ should be a part of any performance assessments, where individuals are evaluated on how much they have contributed to helping colleagues achieve their own personal or team goals. Additional award schemes could also be considered, with individual examples of helpful behaviour being recognised and rewarded either by management teams or by the individuals who have received the help.
  3. Recruit those likely to support the giving culture – by making ‘giving’ part of the selection criteria for new recruits, and working hard to retain those employees who already contribute to the desired culture, organisations can reinforce the positive impact of co-operation and limit the negative effects of those individuals only interested in getting the most for themselves.