And leaders can contribute by encouraging helping behaviour. One of the hallmarks of a top-performing company is that people help each other to get the best performance.
Organisational psychologists call this “citizenship behaviour” without which companies, which are complex with competing demands for time, loyalty, and team input v individual effort, would not function as effectively as they might with strict boundaries and rules.
A design firm called IDEO was the subject of a case study in the Harvard Business Review last year. A key element of the culture there is “collaborative help“.
IDEO is an organisation of knowledge workers tackling complex problems and the authors of the study discovered a number of key elements including leadership conviction that collaborative help works. The CEO Tim Brown says “the more complex the problem the more help you need“.
But promoting helping is not enough. The other side of the coin is that workers sometimes need a sounding board for their ideas so they need to be okay about asking for help without seeming incompetent.
The culture of the organisation at IDEO embedded the helping idea. Research showed that 89% of employees showed up in the top 5 helpers for everyone in the organisation and almost every person was named as a helper by at least one other person.
These helper friendly organisations are more efficient even though they build slack into the system. This is to enable access to potential helpers.
People in one office were asked to name the 5 colleagues who had helped them most and rate them along with a randomly chosen non-helper on three attributes.
These were competence, trust, and accessibility and trust and accessibility were more important than competence in the helpfulness ratings.
To read the whole story check out “IDEO’s Culture of Helping” by Amabile, Fisher, and Pillemer in HBR January-February 2014.