Most organizations—sports teams, universities, Fortune 500 companies—focus on rewarding individual performance. They reward the most productive individuals rather than the most effective groups. Writing in Harvard Business Review, Professor Jay Van Bavel of NYU and Professor Dominic Parker of Lehigh University, both scientists at the Neuroleadership Institute, contend that leaders in these organizations are overlooking something fundamental about human nature—our tribalism (Tweet it!).
“Group identity can explain a range of remarkable behaviors, from putting in long hours at work to making the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country,” they note. “Many experiments have now shown that members will act to benefit their groups, even when doing so exacts a personal cost. One reason is because we share in the success and rewards of our in-group members—we bask in reflected glory and feel pleasure when a team member succeeds.
To help cultivate a positive group identity, Van Bavel and Parker recommend that leaders reward behavior that advances the goals of the organization, rather than the individual. Effective leaders, they say, provide bonuses, recognition, raises, flexibility, and opportunities based on an entire team’s performance. To avoid free-riding (team members shirking personal responsibility), they suggest giving individual rewards to individuals who make important contributions to a team’s success, i.e. “unsung heroes who work late, cover for colleagues, and enhance the success of the group.” Combining individual and collective rewards, they conclude, promotes stronger group identity and ensures that individual members are encouraged and motivated (both financially and socially) to pursue team goals and help the group succeed.
If you work as part of a team, how are your team’s members rewarded? Do you see areas for improvement with regard to rewards and incentives? To join the conversation, click "comments" below on our Community of Practice Forum.
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