How to Encourage Cooperation: Companies Benefit When Workers Cooperate to Achieve Objectives. the Key Is to Hire Team Players and to Make Collaboration Part of the Culture

By Gratton, Lynda | Security Management, July 2007 | Go to article overview

How to Encourage Cooperation: Companies Benefit When Workers Cooperate to Achieve Objectives. the Key Is to Hire Team Players and to Make Collaboration Part of the Culture


Gratton, Lynda, Security Management


EVERY ORGANIZATION SHOULD strive to create cooperative relationships, because cooperation can be a boon to the bottom line. In a study my team conducted of top-performing companies, all of them nurtured cooperation over competitiveness. Those companies that fail to develop a cooperative mind-set do so because they face barriers created by competitive behaviors. In many cases, these barriers are erected in an unconscious manner. Managers must first recognize when they are fostering a competitive environment. Then, they must nurture cooperation.

Competitive Mind-set

Peter is a senior executive in a large company that manufactures and services high-technology equipment. In our interviews with the engineers, many commented that senior executives, including Peter, were aggressive toward each other. The stories we heard were tales of senior team showdowns in the corridors. There was even a widely held perception that a number of senior team members refused to speak to each other because of turf battles.

The company had 65 engineers located across three states in the United States. Executives assumed that engineers could be motivated by the opportunity for reward. The primary object of the company's complex reward system was to build performance by creating competition among these engineers. This was achieved by ranking the performance of individuals and then allocating the maximum bonuses to the highest-performing engineers.

Engineers who serviced the machines the fastest received the highest performance rating and the largest bonuses. Service calls completed per day were tabulated, and the engineers' rankings were prominently posted each week on the wall of the employees' lounge. When opportunities for promotion came along, the engineers at the top of the rankings were given management positions.

The engineers were aware of which aspects of their performance were rewarded. They learned that the best way to ensure a high ranking and a big bonus was to work on their own.

As a consequence, we learned that when new staff came on board, colleagues were pleasant but unhelpful. When these new staffers had a problem and talked to others about it, they were directed to the service manual. This culture made it difficult for new hires, and a significant number of them left within the first three months of their contract.

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Those who stayed learned quickly that performance was measured by speed of service. Thus, when a machine could not be rapidly repaired, the best strategy was 'to leave it. It does not take a genius to see that this atmosphere was not serving the company well.

Cooperative Mind-set

To foster cooperation over the competitiveness displayed in Peter's company, senior managers must pay careful attention to a whole system of practices, processes, behaviors, and norms. These include hiring, induction, mentoring, rewards, peer-to-peer working, and social responsibility.

Hiring. Hiring plays a crucial role in building a culture of cooperation; the company should have a program designed to attract and retain a high proportion of people who are naturally cooperative. The program should weed out naturally uncooperative and highly competitive people.

For example, at Goldman Sachs, the hiring and promotion systems have evolved to carefully screen out people who are incapable of working cooperatively and to identify those most likely to work in a cooperative manner.

The company does this by having applicants speak to a large pool of screeners. For example, at least ten members of the firm will talk to the first round of, say, 5,000 candidates, and then 2,500 that make the cut will speak to as many as 30 members of the firm. Collectively, members of Goldman Sachs spend over 100,000 hours in conversations with prospective employees before they decide which ones will get hired.

Induction. …

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