Give-And-Take Or Every Man For Himself?

May 30, 2013 1 Min Read

How many times have we come across people who do not want to share any skill or knowledge with their own colleagues as they fear that the other party will benefit, and that they themselves will “lose out” if they are generous? I am sure all of us, at one point in our careers, have bumped heads with these individuals.

It has become a norm amongst many to keep whatever they know to themselves like guarding a chest of treasure, without realising that sharing it with their team will bring in more returns that can benefit all.

Evidence from studies conducted by Philip M Podsakoff, a professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University shows that the extent to which employees help each other can actually predict the success of an organisation. It influences:

• Sales revenue in pharmaceutical units and retail stores;

• Profits, costs, and customer service in banks;

• Creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and

• Revenue, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants.

Despite the implications of collaboration, this open sharing of knowledge and efforts is not widespread because of the hurdles of fear, sometimes attributable to company culture. At times, in the effort to increase productivity, employers push employees in a way that only increases competition and defensiveness rather than promote a spirit of collaboration.

“After a decade of studying work performance, I’ve identified different types of reciprocity norms that characterise the interactions between people in organisations,” Podsakoff explains. “At the extremes, I call them ‘giver cultures’ and ‘taker cultures’”.

“In giver cultures, employees operate as high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return. Meanwhile, in taker cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return.

Employees help only when they expect the personal benefits to exceed the costs, as opposed to when the organisational benefits outweigh the personal costs.”

A cohesive and strong company culture is essential in determining an organisation’s success story. A good establishment is one that unites employees of every rank around the goals of the organisation as a whole. Here are some ways to infuse a giving culture into a company:

Be generous in sharing information

Leaders should encourage employees not to be defensive in their work. Demonstrate to them that they are free to share useful information with their colleagues, and commend them when it happens.

Sharing information amongst team members or lending expertise to one another will enable tasks to be completed quicker. After all, it takes several experts in various aspects to work together in order for a project to be successful.

If you are in a team with juniors members, offer them guidance and provide them with the resources they need to complete their jobs well. Share your input with them and work together for the betterment of your organisation.

Give credit

It is human nature that all individuals love to be praised for doing a great job or be acknowledged for their successful ideas and contributions. If you are a team head, give recognition to your employees for their good performance or for the extra mile they went to complete a task. It can be announced during meetings or you can even send out a mass email. Even if it is a colleague, give credit for the person’s brilliant strategies in staff meetings.

If due credit is always given to the source of ideas, then everyone will be encouraged to contribute their thoughts.

Practise mentorship

If you are senior in your organisation, share your knowledge and experiences with the young recruits and junior staff. Be gracious when it comes to sharing your time and expertise as it all boils down to the benefit of your company.

Pass on what you know without being selfish as it will only go to waste if you don’t. Your professional experiences are valuable treasures for those who have just embarked into the working world. Take a mentee or two under your wing and show them the ropes of the organisation. Be a role model in developing their career and assist them in their problems. Set a path for these mentees to follow. One day, they themselves may provide mentorship for their juniors.

Lead the change

A leader can make or break the giving culture in an organisation and should drive the importance of having a giving attitude. Getting employees to trust each other and to share skills and knowledge without the fear of being sidelined may take time, but programmes which emphasise on teamwork and working together may help in this process.

In order to promote team spirit, teams should be commended as a whole, not just specific individuals. To set examples to all, rewards or prizes can be given to departments that practise this mantra to create awareness of the culture the company embraces.

Leaders must lead workers to the attitude that in extending their hands to each other, they can accomplish great things as a team.


In a giving culture, employees are encouraged to lend each other a hand when needed. When one seeks help and finds it, more work can be done at a much faster pace. Nevertheless, many people still hesitate when it comes to asking for help. They tend to feel that they are burdening their peers or afraid that they might appear incompetent. However, these obstacles can be overcome.

A professor from the University of Michigan Professor Wayne Baker and his wife, Cheryl Baker at Humax Networks came up with an exercise called the “Reciprocity Ring”. In this exercise, employees are put in groups. Each employee is asked to request for help in sectors where he or she needs assistance. Others in the group will use their knowledge and networks to help grant the requests.

The exercise is run in two 60 to 90-minute rounds. The first round emphasises on personal requests. Here, people will already begin to open up. The second round focuses on professional requests. Since everyone is asking for help, any form of reluctance is eliminated.

This exercise lets employees know that they can gain access to a wide network of support, and illustrates to them the possibility of getting help from each other without necessarily expecting anything in return. The exercise was carried out at companies such as Estee Lauder and Lincoln Financial with great success. Why not try it in your organisation on a weekly or monthly basis to open the doors for more giving and receiving among employees?

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