The office isn’t usually a place most people would associate with helpfulness, yet it’s where such behaviour is typically most needed. Instead, modern work environments tend to be characterised by cutthroat competition and an “every man for himself” mentality.
Where knowledge work is concerned, though, it’s effective collaboration and excellent teamwork that often precipitate the best results, both of which are difficult to achieve without cultures of helpfulness in place. Such conditions unleash the power of cognitive diversity; subsequently, performance, innovation, creativity all flourish.
Transitioning from dog-eat-dog workplace norms to helpfulness, giving, and cooperation, however, is easier said than done. Here are a few pointers to get started.
P.S. Learn how to make organic collaboration a norm at your workplace; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on supporting the establishment of a framework for enterprise and innovation.
People are often very reluctant to ask one another for help. Everyone says it’s because they don’t want to trouble each other. In reality, though, it’s more because no one wants to embarrass themselves by making themselves seem incompetent. If self-sufficiency has always been the status quo at work, it will feel awkward and uncomfortable to ask for and give help.
To that end, managers need to make psychological safety a top priority. The more psychologically safe people feel, the less afraid they are of taking interpersonal risks. They’re more willing to share information, pose meaningful questions that would otherwise seem silly, and ask each other for help.
At IDEO, for example, all new employees are taught to “make others successful,” and that this is one of the company’s most fundamental values. Here, help-seeking is not looked down upon at all; it’s a sign of good initiative and a strong personal commitment to learning. Similarly, HubSpot has a J.E.D.I. award, given to those employees who “just quietly and selflessly do the right thing and move us forward.”
A leader’s job, in a nutshell, is to help his people succeed. Whether or not this plays out in reality depends on individual attitudes towards leadership. In his New York Times bestselling book “Give and Take”, Wharton psychologist Adam Grant writes that the best leaders in history are those who selflessly gave of themselves and their resources to their people.
These were the leaders who readily invested large amounts of time, energy, and effort into the betterment of their subordinates. At their core, they see leadership not as a right or a free pass to more benefits and privileges, but as a duty and a means of facilitating growth collectively and on a person-to-person level.
In an organisational context, hiring such leaders is critical; leaders set the tone for the rest of the team. If the company leadership consistently demonstrates self-serving behaviour, then that’s what becomes the actual company culture, even if they preach to kingdom come about the importance of helping other people. Conversely, if people see that their leaders are selfless, highly appreciative, and committed to helping everyone succeed, it inspires more loyalty, dedication. In many cases, it even sparks mimicry; people might model themselves after their leader’s selflessness.
Cutthroat competition and other anti-social behaviours tend to stem from the belief that success is a zero-sum game. In other words, people compete to undermine each other and preserve their self-interest because they believe that “your loss is my gain.” For one person to succeed, then, someone has to lose. As such, the only way to get ahead is to hoard resources. Helping doesn’t enter the vocabulary here because there is often little to no benefit from this viewpoint.
This, however, is a classic hallmark of a fixed mindset. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, in her work on the growth mindset, highlights that people with fixed mindsets often believe that their skills and competencies are generally limited, and therefore must be protected at all costs. Cutthroat competition is hence a natural consequence; if I believe I only have limited skills, I have to protect my success come rain or shine, or else someone else will steal it from me.
In contrast, growth-minded people are much more secure about how they conceive success. For them, growing is about finding, utilising, and maximising every last opportunity to grow. Indeed, research has shown that growth-minded people are more likely to help others out. When you know that skills are changeable over time, you’re more motivated not just to keep working on yourself, but to help others work on themselves as well.