Workplace Design and Culture Keys to Business Success

Workplace Design and Culture Keys to Business Success

In an article from Adam Grant  called In the Company of Givers and Takers published in the Harvard Business Review, Grant discovers that successful, productive high performers actually score higher on giving and helping than less productive workers.

The lesson from that is they’re most successful because they can give, share, educate and help others.  Their workplace and position enables it.  That’s great, but how about enabling everyone to do the same thing?

And how about adjusting pay rates and bonuses to reflect the value of their sharing behaviour? Takers would find it tougher to make demands without really explaining how others actually helped generate the value. And by acknowledging that, takers might get their own requests approved.


Photo Courtesy of Inspirational Quotes

Traditionally, we’ve thought of high performers as takers rather than givers.  And we believed givers neglected their own productivity and wasted too much time and effort to support others. We’ve all heard that “get back to work” command in the past at some point. As it turns out, the sociable time wasters with the the slacker reputation may be contributing a great deal to productivity and learning.

The article discusses how workers feel ambivalent about helping others.  Typically, we all mind our business and get our allotted work done.  Entrepreneurs too and sales people struggle with the matter of how much help and support they should provide others.

But without such exchange of value within the ranks, workers will come out feeling unvalued, unappreciated, underutilized and unproductive. Especially in the digital era where isolation makes disconnection as a serious issue.

There couldn’t be a more important part of your company’s unique value proposition than the ability for your staff to collaborate fully to serve customers. It even determines who your new customers will be and what type of product or service you can sustain. And I’m talking collaboration, not in teams, but across the company.

It Won’t Take Place Until it is Fully Enabled

I think the answer is more obvious now that collaborating, and physical access to others, creates a sharing environment that boosts productivity. But most organizations either don’t permit/encourage that sharing, or they make it very difficult. I suspect the loss in productivity, job dissatisfaction and talented workers leaving is high enough to be listed on single line on income and profit statements.

The fact is, most of us need to contribute to others to raise profits and feel a spiritual connection to a higher purpose. All part of our personal equation of how our work has value. We build self-esteem from helping others.

In some modern organizations such as Google and Virgin, there’s a strong emphasis on sharing and communication. With that collaborative knowledge flow and expressiveness comes a stronger team spirit, better outcomes, faster responsiveness, better anticipation, and happier workers.

In many companies, certain people outperform others simply because they’re more able to help others. They have full permission, authority to spend the time, and even have a clear purpose for doing so. They’re enabled. We should enable all workers to share, help, support and assist.

Old School Still Respected because No One Has Confidence to Try Something New

The interaction alone, even if nothing happens, educates, and makes workers feel like they belong and builds a spirit of support and belonging. In old school style, “siloed” organizations, a lack of collaboration actually damages the company’s potential. Knowledge isn’t distributed, engaged with or developed despite meetings and emails.

Some companies have no internal network to share and update others, no newsletter, and no informal “water cooler” areas where even the smallest insights can be shared. Many of workers best, productive thoughts come after inspiring chats with coworkers. That has to be fostered by management.

Adam Grant, in the HBR article also postulates some personal characteristics that supposedly erode sharing: timidity and lack of empathy. Any worker, when given the proper opportunity and permission, will share their thoughts and display empathy toward others. I’ve seen this “Miracle” myself.

The workplace design and culture determine what workers do. It’s that simple.

There are plenty of hard driving, introverted people working at Google and Virgin and they’re creating some of the most innovative successful products in the world. They never blame their employees. They’re smart and know it is the design of the workplace and company culture that determines employee’s behaviour. They put a lot of effort and time into optimizing the work environment. It’s hard to see how they’ve gone wrong.

The benefits of sharing, collaborating, and supporting others productivity won’t happen without companies developing a policy that enforces such valuable activity.  If your company is a siloed, disconnected group, it’s time to put in place digital tools and physical situations that will make sharing, giving, empathizing, supporting and assisting key parts of a worker’s day.

How to implement a more collaborative/sharing/giving workplace culture? Check out this article by Kare Anderson entitled What Makes Collaboration Actually Work in a Company?

Please share your thoughts on how collaboration and sharing knowledge helps you and your company. Follow Gord on Twitter

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