When Helping You is Hurting Me: How to Encourage Healthy Teamwork

dog-eat-dog-at-workAs noted last time, it’s a good thing when employees help each other. But there are some potential negative consequences too. An article, “In the Company of Givers and Takers” by Wharton management professor Adam Grant in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, explores this topic in detail. I’m sharing highlights, starting with my first two posts in this series that explained the benefits of employee generosity.

Today we’ll turn our attention to the potential “dark side” of employees who help each other. Specifically, the costs of excessive helping to the employee doing the helping, as well as the company as a whole.

Does your organization use a forced-ranking performance evaluation? This is a system that requires for every employee who earns a five another must be given a one. An obvious conclusion under this type of system would be that employees who spend a lot of time helping others might be less productive in terms of completing their own work assignments and pay the price at review time.

In other companies, there are competitive bonus pools.  More money for stars equals less for everyone else. Again, this type of system “pits employees against one another, encouraging them to undercut rather than support their colleagues’ efforts.”

Even without a dog-eat-dog scoring system, “strict delineation of responsibilities and a focus on individual performance metrics can cause a ‘not my job’ mentality to take hold,” writes professor Grant. He then poses the following questions:

How can managers promote generosity without cutting into productivity and undermining fairness? How can they avoid creating situations where already-generous people give away too much of their attention while selfish coworkers feel they have even more license to take. In short, can they protect good people from being treated like doormats?

Grant goes on to suggest that part of the solution must “involve targeting the takers in the organization—providing incentives for them to collaborate and establishing repercussions for refusing reasonable requests.”

But much of the responsibility must be assigned to the givers themselves, with management “helping the givers act on their generous impulses more productively.”

Next post: Practical tips for helping good people to not become “doormats” and protecting work objectives in the process!