Team effort brings far better results than individual interests

If helping others and acting as one team is important to you, then you need to listen for evidence that shows “we” instead of “me” in practice.

“Why would someone help anyone else if they are not compensated for it?” asked a senior leader as the team was discussing the need to think and work as one organisation. Silos, the insular management term representing detached work within a business, were crippling this organisation’s focus, making corporate selfishness too much of a reality as it is for so many other leaders.

The company I am referring to should probably be considered a series of unconnected departments rather than a collective business; clients have to reach out to each division separately based upon their needs, rather than turning to one person willing to talk with the client and, in doing so, bringing together all of the support and products that the company has to offer. This business is not working together to meet the customer’s needs collectively. To resolve this, its senior leader is proposing a change to the compensation structure to reward working together. He believes it is the only way to bring the organisation together and ensure the team thinks collectively.

This rogue anti-corporate citizenship behaviour is destructive to achieving peak organisational performance. Placing concern for yourself and your interest above others at work is like selfishness in general society, becoming detrimental to citizen belonging that thinks “we” instead of “me”.

Ironically, flying home after witnessing the above conversation, I read an article about working well together. And guess what? Compensation is not required to motivate people towards the desired behaviour of helping one another.

To quote Harvard Business Review: “Few things leaders can do are more important than encouraging helping behaviour within their organisations. In the top-performing companies it is a norm that colleagues support one another’s efforts to do the best work possible.”

This begins with the selection process. In addition to confirming technical abilities, you need to examine and verify the behaviour that you want to see demonstrated day to day on the job. If helping others and acting as one team is important to you, then you need to listen for evidence that shows “we” instead of “me” in practice.

A collaborative attitude begins with trust. People work much more effectively when they feel safe discussing mistakes and problems with one another. Do you build a climate of trust in your company?

Trust is closely related to the second element of successful collaboration – competition, actually competing together instead of against one another. Employees experience conflicting impulses – wanting to help someone else and also feeling the need to compete. Most companies that I know of accidentally destroy collaboration by their overemphasis on individual performance.

That is what was at the crux of the opening story: that leader was asking: “Where are we going to book the revenue?” He was really asking: “Am I going to get the credit or is someone else?” He was competing internally and his company set him up to do it.

A focus on individual performance distracts from the need to collaborate. I know the argument that is gong to come – someone needs to be accountable. And if no one person is accountable, then no one will be. Helpfulness produces better outcomes than internal competition.

Being responsible for your work in support of the whole is different from being accountable for your work at the expense of others.

There are two sides to the coin of trust and collaboration. One side is being willing to help, as helping is a discretionary act that causes you to give up time for uncertain returns. And it can seem like a lot of trouble.

The other side is being willing to ask for help and being receptive to it.

Here trust is vital, as it is all too easy to avoid asking or accepting help to avoid the appearance that you are somewhat weak or incompetent if you ask for assistance. When you have the mindset and are known for helping others to succeed, then your reputation builds others’ trust.

Research across many kinds of companies finds that working together lowers employee turnover, increases customer satisfaction and profits.

Employees, and especially leaders, need to break from lacking consideration for other people and being concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. All for one and one for all does not need to be a cliché from the past. Since it is normal in top performing firms for leaders to help others, I want to ask: “What are you doing to make it reality in your company?”

Tommy Weir is a leadership adviser, author of 10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East and other leadership writings and the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center

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Published: May 4, 2014 04:00 AM


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