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

All-Working-As-OneIn the article, “In the Company of Givers and Takers” by Wharton management professor Adam Grant in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, three attributes are identified as common among many employees who are considered “givers” in the workplace: timidity, availability and empathy. Professor Grant describes it this way:

Timidity: “Generous people tend not to ask for help, but they will do so if they are acting as agents on behalf of others.” He proposes encouraging this type of employee to “act as agents—to advocate for others while negotiating for themselves.”

My take: In practical terms, this may mean the giver learns to say something along the lines of, “I would like to help you, but my customer is expecting my project tomorrow. I don’t want to disappoint him.”

We also make sure employees understand that we expect them to act like adults and take ownership for their own productivity. At the very least, they need to create awareness of the business impact of their daily heroics so management can provide support as necessary.

Availability: If givers drop everything when anyone asks for a favor, their own productivity suffers. The key is to carve out time and space for uninterrupted work.

My take: Leaders can assist by helping employees set boundaries. We have financially compensated employees who have agreed to help others. Along with the compensation comes strict guidelines about when that help can occur. We need to ensure that helping does not interfere with the helper’s primary work responsibilities. We also require that the help only consist of mentoring, not actually “doing” the other employees’ work.

Empathy: Givers can be easily swayed by emotional appeals for their assistance, but they can make choices about helping when they are taught to consider others’ perspectives in addition to their feelings.

My take: Helping givers see the big picture, such as how the company is performing against goals on a quarterly basis, connects their individual choices to the company’s mission. Discussions about meeting client’s expectations also can be helpful.

The bottom line:

If the work environment doesn’t support supporting, I believe the results will be a company culture where people are more concerned about holding their own position versus helping others. At the end of the day, most bright, hard-working people want to be part of a firm that recognizes success of the business is more important than any single individual. Or, to put it more simply, when we all succeed, we all succeed!