It’s perhaps fair to say that most modern workplaces endeavor to be social and collaborative affairs, and with good reason. A Stanford study from a few years ago found that even the mere perception of working collectively on a task can supercharge our performance.
Participants in the research who were primed to act collaboratively stuck at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers, whilst also reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and a higher success rate. What’s more, this impact persisted for several weeks.
“The results showed that simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” the researchers say.
A collaboration boost
A similar finding emerged from a recent joint study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College. It found that companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times as likely to be high performing.
The study examined over 1,100 companies, many of whom claim to have open and collaborative cultures. Whilst many aspired to be collaborative however, a relative minority managed to achieve good results, with the authors suggesting that the key to productive collaboration is purpose.
Once purpose has been established, it’s important to ensure that your work environment all works towards supporting and promoting collaborative working. There are a number of systemic factors that influence how we behave at work, whether it’s how information flows through your organization, how decisions are made, the physical design of your workplace, or how you measure and reward employee behaviors.
“The lack of incentives and rewards is the most common and powerful barrier to effective collaboration. Yet, most talent management systems are designed to reward individual achievement, not team accomplishments,” said Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer, i4cp. “Finding ways to recognize and reward individuals, leaders, and teams who engage in productive collaborative behaviors can pay off in a big way.”
This is crucial, for a 2013 study found that we tend not to collaborate when there is little incentive to do so. The research found that money had a profound impact on our willingness to collaborate.
Whereas previously individuals would act in their own interests, when currency was added, they began using them in exchange for help, and vice versa expecting payment for help they offered to others.
“It’s not that they trusted others, but they trusted that others would help in exchange for a token,” the author says. “This object, which has no intrinsic value, acquired value and became a symbol of trust.”
This hypothesis was further examined in a study published last year that examined whether we collaborate more or less during a recession. The theory was that recessions promote more dog-eat-dog style behavior, and therefore less collaboration.
The researchers examined around 60,000 responses from the World Values Survey and found a clear correlation between the wider economy and a belief that success is ‘zero-sum’.
All of which underlines the importance of creating the right culture so that collaborative behaviors flourish even when employees are sorely tempted to look out for number one. Whilst this maybe slightly easier said than done, the possible upside hopefully highlights that it’s an effort that’s well worth undertaking.