Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Psychological Safety in Workgroups & Teams

October 25, 2018

Most of the important things accomplished in the workplace as well as society are done not by individuals but by groups of people. Workgroups and teams at their best are able to accomplish far more than a collection of individuals on their own. Effective collaboration is essential and this begins with psychological safety.

Feeling psychologically safe in our environment is a basic requirement, yet all too often we may take this for granted. Think about the last time you joined a new team or workgroup. How long before you felt comfortable speaking up, challenging assumptions, and making mistakes? Maybe you still feel uncomfortable doing so.

When you feel unsafe due to negative or disrespectful behaviors in the group, you are unlikely to contribute effectively. On the other hand, when you do feel safe and comfortable to deliver your best self in a group setting, you are more likely to make contributions that benefit the group as a whole.

Group Norms Determine Performance

As I wrote about previously, researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were key to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms can raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms can hobble a team—even if all the individual members are exceptionally bright.

Specifically, the researchers at Google found that group norms of 1) taking turns speaking and 2) listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes.

Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Teaming, Amy Edmondson, found that when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other—what she terms psychological safety—this was by far the most important of five dynamics that set successful teams apart.

“Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth,” says Edmondson. “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it.”

Psychologically Safe in Your Workgroup or Team

To determine the level of psychological safety in workgroups or teams in your workplace, look for signs of judgment, unsolicited advice giving, interrupting, or sharing outside the meetings. These things get in the way of psychological safety, according to researcher and author Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead.

To counteract those behaviors and provide psychological safety, Brown suggests initiating and modeling behaviors that include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidences. Then and only then will all members of the group feel confident to speak up, offer new ideas, and challenge potential groupthink.

Highly effective workgroups and teams require trust, respect, cooperation and commitment. When people are able to take turns speaking and listening to each other with empathy, these group norms can bring about greater outcomes. First establishing psychological safety as a foundation to build upon is critical. Think safety first.

Collaborative Culture of the Coworking Contingent

March 30, 2012

The American workforce is going through a sea change with regard to how and where we work. The workplace of the future may no longer include nearly as many fulltime workers in cubicles, but instead provide only a gathering place for many contingent workers to collaborate on specific projects.

Contingent workers—including freelancers, temps, part-time workers, contractors and other specialists—today make up 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. By the end of the decade, they will make up more than 40 percent, according to the Intuit 2020 Report.

The report also states that “more than 80 percent of large corporations plan to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce in the coming years.”

Our knowledge-driven economy contributes to this rise in contingent workers because organizations rely more on specific knowledge and expertise.As demand increases for highly-skilled and knowledgeable people, the expertise of contract workers becomes more attractive.

This can save the organization money as there is no longer the need to pay the fully burdened costs of fulltime employees as well as the real estate to accommodate them.

So what does this mean to the contingent worker? Greater freedom? Yes. Less job security? Maybe. Greater work/life balance? Possibly. Less compensation? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

One thing is for certain: the contingent worker will need to be a lot more intentional and active in finding opportunities, and also in collaborating from outside the organization.

A lot of contingent workers want to get out of Starbucks and other coffee shops, but they don’t want to be at home alone says Ryan Coonerty, co-founder and chief strategist of NextSpace in Santa Cruz, California.

“People like being around other people,” he says. “While they don’t miss some of the traditional office culture—like cubicles and set work schedules—holiday parties matter.”

NextSpace is one of a growing number of coworking spaces with locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Santa Cruz. Coonerty says he plans to open another four to six locations by the end of the year.

Contingent workers are moving to these coworking spaces because they can find more quiet, fewer distractions, shared office resources, and collaboration opportunities. These coworking spaces can also be a lot cheaper than renting a traditional office.

According to Deskmag’s Second Global Coworking Survey completed last fall by more than 1500 people from 52 countries, “individuals increase their productivity and networks by joining a coworking space.”

The survey found there are now more than 1,100 coworking facilities worldwide, and that number is likely to increase dramatically.

It’s not entirely clear how an increase in these independent workers will change an organization’s culture. Contingent workers could help make companies more responsive to customers and market trends by bringing in a fresh perspective.

And just as outside consultants can often ask the hard or sensitive questions internal employees may not, contingent workers can focus on the objective at hand rather than let the internal politics get in the way of meeting those objectives.

My concern is how well these contingent workers will be able to effectively collaborate with fulltime employees. How quickly can rapport be established if the interaction is primarily via email and phone calls? How can trust be developed when there isn’t the time to regularly work side by side?

These contingent coworking professionals will definitely change the culture of organizations. And how organizations adapt to this less tangential and potentially more collaborative culture will determine whether this transition is successful or not.

Five Major Pitfalls for Leading Effective Work Groups

May 18, 2009

Building high performing work groups is important for all organizations, but achieving them is easier said than done. For the sake of this discussion, an effective work group depends upon whether the output meets the quantity, quality and timeliness established, how well the process of the work can be carried out by the individuals interdependently in the future, and whether the group experience contributes to the growth and well-being of the individual members.

To be an effective work group leader involves creating favorable performance conditions for the group (either on one’s own authority or by exercising influence upward or laterally with colleagues), building and maintaining the work group as a performing unit, and coaching the group as it evolves.

Work groups can be ineffective for many reasons, and it’s important for a leader to first recognize the nature of the problem. For instance, is the difficulty due to a lack of effort, inappropriate talent or a flawed strategy? Each of these areas would require a different intervention in order to make the team more effective.

The best way to keep a group from becoming ineffective in the first place is to avoid these five major pitfalls:

1. Work group in name only. When people are told they are a team but treated as individual performers, this sends a mixed message. This is also untenable as individual goals are likely to trump group goals. The team’s very existence is to achieve group goals, and it is therefore vital to emphasize that there is no “I” in the word team. Make it clear that all individuals will prosper only when the team prospers. Encourage team building activities that build trust and open communication between every member. Acknowledge and reward team achievements as well as encourage collaboration among individuals.

2. Lack of authority, responsibility and accountability. Managers should insist on exercising their authority with regard to the direction and constraints on group behavior. With clear direction, the team can align their efforts with the objectives of the larger organization. Ideally, group leaders should define the outcomes they are looking for and then give the team the flexibility to accomplish them on their own. By providing clear direction, the team can then choose the appropriate performance strategies. This can often generate and sustain energy within the team.

3. Inappropriate structure. Groups that have appropriate structures tend to develop healthy internal processes, whereas groups with inappropriate structures tend to have process problems. It is crucial to have the right people in the right roles, but without the right structure around these roles, the process breaks down. A leader should assemble a group of people in the correct roles and provide a structure that is suitable to contributing to them accomplishing the work at hand.

4. Inadequate support. If you specify challenging team objectives but skimp on organizational support, the team is bound to fail. The full potential of work teams can be realized only when organizational structures and systems actively support competent teamwork. And this must be done in deeds as well as words. The potential of a well-directed, well-structured, well-supported team is tremendous.

5. Limited training and coaching. It is helpful for leaders and managers to provide some hands-on training and coaching as group members develop the skills they need to work well on a team. Favorable times for this intervention include when a group is first launched, when it reaches a natural break in its work, and when it has completed its product or reached the end of a performance period. Providing adequate training and development ensures the continuation of the team’s performance.

Being an effective group leader involves (1) creating favorable performance conditions for the group with appropriate structure, accountability, and support, (2) building and maintaining the team as a performing unit by encouraging collaboration, open communication, and trust, and (3) coaching and helping the team in real time with appropriate training and development.

When all three areas are focused on, a group leader can help avoid the five major pitfalls and help their work group prosper.

Mark Craemer