Tech & Work

Team work and what's in it for me?

One white paper says that cooperation between workers is beneficial to a firm, but employees won't do it unless there's an incentive.

I'm fascinated by scientific studies on the behavior in the workplace. I think it's interesting to see how the pieces of the office macrocosm work together.

Unfortunately, I hate to actually read the usually dry papers that describe the studies. It may date back to boring school days but as soon as somebody pops a footnote into a white paper, they lose my attention faster than Lindsay Lohan's at an AA meeting.

I recently read a white paper called Competition, Cooperation, And Corporate Culture. I read it because I've often been perplexed by companies that don't encourage teamwork among their employees. The paper was diseased with the aforementioned footnotes, but I was able to glean some really interesting statements. Here's one:

There are many examples showing that workers with complementary skills can increase output and productivity by helping each other on individual tasks. Similarly, communication and the sharing of relevant information between different workers or work groups often greatly enhance the efficiency of production. While cooperation between workers is beneficial to the firm, the exertion of cooperative effort is usually costly to a worker. Moreover, it is typically hard to identify, let alone to verify, whether or not a worker helped a co-worker or shared information. Hence, incentives for cooperation are difficult to provide. Firms therefore often face inefficiently low levels of worker cooperation.

In other words, unless employees are already intrinsically motivated to cooperate and communicate with their co-workers, there's no "reason" for them to be so. I guess you could reward teamwork and cooperation with money bonuses but how could you measure it?

This is really depressing to me. It's another one of those workplace characteristics (like employee happiness) that doesn't have a direct line to company profits, so it's not emphasized.

The paper compares two airlines-American (whose employees claim, see communication as a low priority) and Southwest (has become the prototype of a strong cooperative corporate culture). Southwest Airlines announced its 31st consecutive year of profitability in 2004— a big achievement given the high turbulence of the airline industry in the past decades.

So let's discuss. First, does your company stress communication and cooperation? If so and your company is successful, do you think that's why?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

Editor's Picks