If you've taken a large lecture course, chances are that you've experienced the ups --and downs-- of being graded on a curve. By necessitating that someone ace and that someone fail, curves, by definition, help some people and hurt others. Being evaluated in this way can only make us less collaborative. After all, when we help someone else, we risk harming ourselves in the end.
Luckily, most of us leave this grading system behind when we enter the business world. As shown by a comprehensive study of companies across industries, leaders typically reward employees who help make their teams, not just themselves, successful. And this makes us each better employees: Recent Wharton research has shown that "givers" or those who build relationships with and help others are consistently more successful in the long run than "takers."
I can't think of a time in my professional career where my success has meant someone else's failure. I have always operated on the notion that when one person wins, the teams wins, and vice versa.
I currently work at IDEO, a human-centered design firm where collaboration is not just encouraged, but the status quo. One of our seven company values is "Make Others Successful." In my opinion, this value is the foundation of our company's culture and creativity. While the phrase is self-explanatory, you might find yourself wondering how you might put this into practice at your own organization. Let me help by sharing three ways we make others successful everyday at IDEO:
Don't be hesitant to reply-all
As a global design company, we have teams of employees worldwide tackling different design challenges for clients in a variety of industries. Though no two projects are exactly the same, what we learn on one project can often be applied to another. For example, a team working on a financial services project may learn something about millennial spending behaviors that can be used by a team working on retail experiences for millennials.
To find and share these overlaps, we send company-wide emails. When a team has a question about where to find inspiration, relevant user behaviors, cultural phenomena, and the like, they ask it in a question to the entire company. Other times, the original sender of the email will compile all her responses and share it back out with the company.
This method works because people are willing to respond and because they know they will benefit from these responses at some point down the road. With the alternative being to spend time doing qualitative and quantitative research out in the world, tapping our internal resources when it makes sense saves us time and money in the short- and long-term.
Break down barriers together
No matter the project or client, all of our work begins with identifying and building empathy for our design target. We understand people's needs and pains in the context of their environments then explore ways in which we might help solve their problems. This method is not reserved for our externally-facing work. We often apply this method to our own company culture and the employee experience.
Last year, during her first week on the job, one of our summer interns found herself struggling with the reality of being an introvert in a role and company which demands continual collaboration. Rather than ignoring this challenge or hiding it from others, she started to engage with other employees on the topic, only to find that she was not alone as an introvert at our company. In fact, there are many. She gathered tips from fellow introverts and observed the behaviors that made them successful. But she didn't stop here. She took everything she learned and published it into what she called an "Introvert Guide" for working at our company which she shared internally.
When the risk of "failure" is eliminated, people are able to more openly discuss their challenges, and in doing so, will connect with other employees about them. Together, they will identify healthy ways to overcome these challenges, in turn building stronger employees and a stronger company overall.
Make room for all types of working styles
While every team at our company follows a generally similar design process, they each work differently based on the roles and personalities on the team. From early birds to night owls, visual to verbal learners, and internal to external thinkers, we recognize that every individual thrives in a unique context.
Most conventional projects last three months and comprise of a brand new team of individuals that have never all worked together. Rather than one person imposing a working style where some will succeed and some will fail, each team member shares his or her preferred style during the team's first meeting. From there, the team jointly agrees on the way in which they want to structure their time together to best meet everyone's needs.
When a group of strangers is brought together to suddenly spend intense amounts of time together and even travel together, it's important that they each understand one another's personality and style so that they can best help each other throughout the course of the project.
To be sure, you can't ensure that everyone on your team will always get along or work together optimally. But encouraging collaboration is a good first step.