The Critical Organizational Behavior You Might Not Be Considering

Helping may be the most important indicator of your organization’s health and effectiveness

In April 2013, the McKinsey Quarterly published an article titled, “Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture“. The author, Adam Grant, cites research which indicates that teams displaying a high level of “help-giving” significantly outperform teams in which individuals are more oriented to a “taker” mindset. The research shows this to be true across industries and across several different measures of performance.  Beyond a very positive impact to the bottom line the article notes these additional benefits:

  • Enabling employees to solve problems and get work done faster
  • Enhancing team cohesion and coordination
  • Ensuring that expertise is transferred from experienced to new employees
  • Reducing variability in performance when some members are overloaded or distracted
  • Establishing an environment in which customers and suppliers feel that their needs are the organization’s top priority

Helping is good for business.

There are benefits that transcend the business value outlined in the article. Imagine working in a community where people genuinely care for one another and give freely in the belief that together they can create something that transcends any personal agenda. This orientation towards community and giving can create a workplace that is free from many of the divisive and energy draining behaviors and emotions that plague our organizations.

Helping is good for people.

While on the surface this might seem like common sense; it is hardly the norm. Many organizations promote teamwork and cooperation as important values and decorate conference rooms with inspiring artwork while the culture encourages a very different type of behavior. Even when organizations do avoid promoting a “what’s in it for me” attitude they do little to encourage helping. Most often the result is a give and take, “barter” system where people are helpful only when there is reciprocity. To really make an impact we need to take it to another level.

How can leaders promote a helping organization?

  • Encourage helping – Provide training, team exercises and other activities that teach effective communication, cooperation and boundary setting skills.
  • Model helping – Demonstrate the behavior by being helpful even when there is no obvious benefit. They will believe it when they see it. And be consistent.
  • Hire for helping – Evaluate potential new team members not just on their skills but on their attitude towards sharing credit and helping others towards a common goal.
  • Organize for helping – Design your organization around teams and working in pairs or small groups and give them autonomy. Rotate people often and remove hierarchy as much as possible.
  • Reward helping – Build reward and recognitions systems focused on helping and giving behaviors along with team or group results.

It will not be easy to transform a culture that has been focused on taking or barter to one centered on giving and helping. Typically there are difficulties associated with lack of trust and fear of losing status or appearing weak. However, this transformation may be the single most important action we can take to move our organizations to new levels of performance.

For a real world example of this philosophy in practice check out this video interview with Richard Sheridan, CEO and Founder of Menlo Innovations. You might also want to check out the book Adam Grant has written on the subject, “Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. I have yet to read it so I cannot comment on the content but based on the article I have added it to my reading list for 2014.

Or maybe you need a little musical encouragement?

Join the conversation by commenting below.

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5 thoughts on “The Critical Organizational Behavior You Might Not Be Considering

  1. Scott, I especially like the points about modeling and rewarding. We can advocate helping till our faces turn blue, but until we show what it looks like and reward the right behavior, it won’t work. Your post reminds me of an experience I had last year in my company’s leadership meeting. In a networking exercise, when we were supposed to be telling others what we can give them, this one woman took one look at me and said, “I know what you can give me!” Wait, didn’t the instruction say she was to offer to give, not to take? Exhibit A for telling is insufficient to change a taker mindset.


    • scott_elumn8 says:

      Great example Alice. Creating an “helping” orientation in a work culture is challenging for individuals who have achieved success by focusing on what others can do for them. Thanks for joining the conversation.


  2. mikelehroza says:

    Scott, I believe the study also indicated that the givers/helpers were also the most likely to suffer in their own job performance as they were helping others “too much.” As a result, we are more likely to let helpers go than takers go. Your points about organizing and rewarding for helping are critical if this is to succeed. Otherwise, the traditional self-oriented performance reviews and reward structures are going to make mincemeat of this effort.


  3. Reblogged this on Leadership Advantage and commented:
    Who have you helped today?


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