When employees work in groups, they are best served by focusing more on how they can benefit others and not just themselves, research has shown.
When team members are motivated to help others, even at the expense of their own performance, their teams perform better, according to a study published in the journal Academy of Management.
This type of behavior is defined as prosocial motivation, which highlights the social aspect of work by emphasizing individuals' concerns about how their actions can affect others' well-being. Prosocially motivated individuals are described as givers who are concerned primarily with contributing benefits to others, rather than calculating personal returns, according to the research.
"Extending this idea to the work-team context, when team members have a strong belief that they can work together to make a positive influence on the well-being of relevant others – such as their colleagues, clients, customers and community – they are likely to work together effectively over the long term," Jasmine Hu, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business at the time of the study , told Business News Daily.
The research was based on a field study of 67 work teams from six companies in both the United States and China, as well as a lab study with 124 student teams at the University of Notre Dame.
"Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance," Hu said in a statement.
The research also revealed that when team members looked out for the well-being of others, employees were less likely to voluntarily leave their teams.
Hu said the researchers found that prosocial motivation matters to the effectiveness of a wide range of work teams.
"For example, if building-construction team workers are not genuinely concerned about their customers' safety and comfort, they may engage in opportunistic behaviors that enhance short-term benefits but have a potentially detrimental impact on the residents in the building," Hu said. "Likewise, a lack of prosocial motivation in a lawyer's team might damage clients' subsequent well-being and also hurt the lawyers' own reputations."
The study's authors discovered that the benefits a team gets from prosocial employees depend on how closely team members work with one another. The more closely the teams worked together, the greater the benefits of prosocial motivations were, the researchers said.
"The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high," Hu said.
The study's authors said the research should encourage employers to build teams with employees who keep others' best interests in mind.
"In line with our results, management attention should be directed toward enhancing motivation to benefit others, as teamwork is a coordinated action, and showing concern for others may bring about smoother interactions and more effective cooperation within the team," Hu said.
Based on the research, Hu advised organizations to look at the types of teams they have. Some teams don't require employees to work together closely. For these teams, Hu suggested managers increase interaction within the group, add employees who are highly motivated to benefit others and take a more active role in leading by example.
Hu said teams already filled with employees focused on the well-being of others can improve their team performance by establishing a higher level of interaction and coordination among members.
Tips for motivating employees to work together
Any employer knows that motivation is the key to group productivity, individual performance and a happy workplace. So, how do you motivate your employees? Here are some easy ways to ensure your employees receive the motivation they crave.
Make the workplace pleasant. Employees don't want to spend their time in a dingy, boring space. Having a well-lit, functional and aesthetically pleasing environment will make work much more pleasant. Make sure employees have access to updated, working equipment. Keeping the space clean and attractive will make the environment more enjoyable and, in turn, motivate employees.
Be honest, respectful and supportive. Employees don't want to work in an environment where they aren't respected. The easiest ways to motivate your employees are to be honest, supportive and respectful and to have clear, open communication. If employees know that their employer respects and supports them, they will be more loyal to the business.
Offer rewards. To keep employees motivated, consider starting an incentive program. It doesn't have to be monetary; it could be something as simple as a gift card or an employee-of-the-month day off with pay. When employees are rewarded for their hard work, they are more likely to do a good job and see their work through.
Offer room to grow. If the business is expanding, a great motivator is to offer your employees room to grow within the company. Not only is the money factor appealing, but employees will also feel respected for their work.
Give positive feedback. Everyone wants to know that they are doing a great job, so don't hesitate to hand out positive feedback. This includes feedback that customers have given you about an employee. Letting your employees know that they made a customer happy will not only make them feel good but also give them a reason to continue doing their best.
Recognize achievements. Sometimes, all employees want is a little recognition for doing a good job. If you have an employee who has been working overtime on a project or has gone out of their way to help their co-workers, don't hesitate to offer praise. It's not simply about being recognized; when employees feel appreciated, it pushes them to continue working hard and helping others.