It's easy to think someone like Steve Jobs had all the answers. But even Steve believed in the power of asking for help. 

"I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help," Jobs said. "[Yet] most people never ask, and that's what separates, sometimes, the people who do things from the people who just dream about them."

The same is true for successful companies. Research shows that establishing a giving culture makes organizations more successful, increases customer satisfaction, and improves employee retention, engagement, and efficiency.

All of which sounds great...but building a genuine culture of giving requires more than sprinkling the word "giving" throughout your culture deck. The real key is to make asking for help easy--and just as importantly, to make providing help easy.

That's a problem Givitas, a Web-based, SaaS platform, can solve.

The brainchild of Adam Grant and Cheryl and Wayne Baker, Givitas makes it so easy for people to ask for and provide help at work that it takes less than five minutes a day. (While enterprise customers were the initial focus, associations, affinity groups, and newsletters have begun using Givitas; it's a natural way to connect people with common interests who may be scattered across the country or world.)

While five minutes a day doesn't sound like much, the impact is surprising. A manager in India who needed help implementing lean business practices made new connections in Europe and Asia that helped him save significant time on his project. A peer group at a financial services firm gave one manager specific advice on how to bring collaboration and transparency to her team. A startup founder got four offers from industry and research professionals to help her develop her idea. A podcast host looking for potential guests "was completely bowled over by the response." 

"Adam says 'make work not suck,' and that's definitely one of our goals: to make every day better," says Givitas CEO Larry Freed. "We have people saving time, saving money, getting customer and sales opportunities, finding new jobs...but what's also interesting is the unsolicited feedback we get from the giving side."

Even though many (I believe most) people like to help others, doing so can often be hard. Maybe you're rarely asked. Maybe no one thinks to ask you. Maybe your organization's culture discourages asking for help. As a result, many people who would love to make a difference in someone else's life don't often get that chance.

"While it might sound odd," Larry says, "asking for help actually provides a service to the people who really want to help." The data proves him out: Rarely does a request for help through Givitas go unanswered--and more importantly, the average request receives at least four responses.

More Collaboration, Less Meetings

Most meetings are a complete waste of money. That's especially true if the goal of the meeting is to foster collaboration.

Since no one ever does anything truly worthwhile on their own, collaboration is important. But it's also possible to over-collaborate. You don't need to meet just so everyone gets the chance to share their opinions and perspectives. A one-hour meeting with 10 attendees isn't a one-hour meeting; it's a 10-hour meeting.

And even then, you may find you didn't invite the right people to the meeting.

A tool like Givitas lets you bypass most meetings and allows the right people to step forward--or to recommend the right person. (Everyone you know knows someone you should know.)

"Often the person with the right answer steps up," Larry says, "but we also see lots of referrals. Someone might say, 'I don't know the answer, but call Mary--she definitely knows.' In the corporate world, getting an answer might take days. Feedback from our users is that connecting with the right person often only takes minutes."

More Collaboration, Less Email

Of course that depends on the nature of the request. Most requests for help tend to fall into two basic categories: tactical questions that tend to have one right answer, and more strategic questions that can yield a variety of perspectives and feedback.

"How do I search the database for a combination of X, Y, and Z?" should have one right answer. "Can you give me feedback on my startup's pitch deck?" will not.

Send either type of request in a group email and inefficiency typically rules the day. Some people will go into excessive detail. Other answers will be redundant. Some won't read other people's responses. Some will answer a question that wasn't even asked.

And then there's this: No one likes getting sucked into the black hole of a CC email chain.

"A person in a tech ecosystem group asked about attending a specific conference," Larry says. "One person responded, 'I've attended for the last 25 years. Here's a rundown.' Another said, 'I've only been twice...but make sure you register for (this) and (that) meeting.' The benefit of asking for help in a group like that is that no one has to repeat what someone else said...and at the same time, people can benefit from the information shared."

And best of all, if you have nothing to add, you can just move on.

More Collaboration, More Engagement

When I was working my way up a corporate ladder, The Art of War was all the vogue. We competed with other companies, but we also competed among ourselves. Why should I help you when we're both competing for the same opportunities? 

"The reality is, your colleagues are not your enemies," Larry says. "They're not the ones you have to 'beat.' Working together is what helps you win."

Helping each other, building a culture of generosity, building a culture where collaborating is easy and efficient...that's how to build a great organization. When people feel they can ask for help when needed, when people feel they get opportunities to help other people, they feel better about themselves.

And they feel better about the company. 

"Saving time is clearly a benefit," Larry says, "but so are the relationships people build. So is feeling valued and trusted. When employee engagement goes research shows, that has a huge bottom-line impact."

One example: A Fortune 500 tech company has delivery centers scattered around the world; each center functioned in a silo with no real way to share knowledge and learn from mistakes and progress made by the other centers. After implementing Givitas for three months, 43 employees reported a saving of 595 hours and $122,000, for an ROI of 850 percent.

So how can you dip a toe into the giving circle waters, whether you use a tool like Givitas or not?

Start by ensuring some degree of affinity among the people in the group. That affinity can be as loose as people who subscribe to a certain newsletter or attended a certain event...or as tight as a departmental team. The key is to ensure something ties the group together.

That affinity creates an immediate atmosphere of trust--and also helps focus the nature of the requests for help.

Then get out of the way and let the nature of generosity take its course.

When someone helps you, you see the value. When you get to help someone else, you see the value. Success builds success. Momentum builds momentum.

Generosity builds more generosity. Generosity is contagious. 

And that helps turn a group of individuals into a real team.