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Create a Culture of Giving: 3 Tips

Helping others isn't just nice--it's good for overall productivity. Here are three easy ways to make teamwork central to your culture.
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Think a little rivalry never hurt anyone? When it comes to in-house competition between employees, you may want to reconsider.

According to a recent white paper from McKinsey & Company, “giver” cultures--where employees help each other, share knowledge, and offer mentorship without expectation of anything in return--produce higher quality work than cultures that encourage competition and duplicity between employees.

Here are a few tips on how to foster a “giver” culture in your workplace from Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, author of the book Give and Take: Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Let them cry, “Help!”

The first step in eliminating unhealthy competition is creating an atmosphere that allows employees to feel safe admitting that they don’t know it all.

“Giver cultures depend on employees making requests; otherwise, it’s difficult to figure out who needs help and what to give,” writes Grant in the paper. He explains that creating a question-friendly atmosphere requires some proactive coaching from those in leadership positions.

Grant cites the consulting firm Humax Networks’ “reciprocity ring” exercise as an example of the kind of tools leaders can use to encourage their employees to seek collaborative help. Humax Network, which is run by husband-and-wife team Wayne and Cheryl Baker, conducts an exercise in which employees are gathered into a group where each member must make a request, while their colleagues use combined skills and expertise to grant those requests.

Ditch the selfish creeps.

When it comes to your office talent, it's true that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. “Takers often do more harm than givers do good,” writes Grant, citing additional research conducted by Patrick Dunlop and Kibeom Lee.

So how do you weed out job candidates who are more likely to help themselves than others? Listen to how they speak, Grant suggests.

“Takers tend to claim personal credit for successes,” he writes, “Takers were substantially more likely to use pronouns like I and me instead of us and we.” Grant advises interviewers to ask questions about successes and screen for self-glorifying responses. Pay particular attention to those who “describe accomplishments in collective rather than personal terms.”

Follow the golden rule.

The final and most crucial step in establishing a giver culture, Grant writes, is to put your money where your mouth is. He cites an anecdote from the film company Pixar’s early days as an example of what “giver” employees expect from their bosses.

In an effort to cut costs, the president of the Pixar’s parent company demanded that the managers conduct layoffs within their division. The division heads resisted, and the president gave them a hard deadline: A list of names on his desk by the next morning.

When he received the list, it only contained two names--those of the managers themselves. No layoffs were conducted, and the employees were grateful that their bosses would put their own jobs on the line for the good of the team.

“When it comes to giver cultures,” Grant writes, “the role-modeling lesson here is a powerful one: If you want it, go and give it.”

Last updated: May 13, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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