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If you have ever managed staff or studied staff motivation (such as Herzberg) you will have pondered the big question; what is the single  factor that can predict a unit’s effectiveness?  In doing so you would likely start with a list such of these;

  1. having stable team membership,
  2. the right number of people,
  3. a clear vision,
  4. challenging and/or meaningful work,
  5. well-defined roles and responsibilities,
  6. appropriate rewards,
  7. recognition and resources, or
  8. strong leadership.

and then select one. Which would you choose?

Let’s see how your answer compares to  research by Harvard psychologists. 

First a true story.

……. a film company facing financial pressure hired a new president. In an effort to cut costs, the president asked the two leaders of a division, Ed and Alvy, to conduct layoffs. Ed and Alvy resisted suggesting that eliminating employees would dilute the company’s value.

The new president issued an ultimatum: a list of names was due to him at nine o’clock the next morning.

When the president received the list, it contained just two names: Ed and Alvy.

No layoffs were conducted, and a few months later Steve Jobs bought the division from Lucasfilm and started Pixar with Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith.

According to research by McKinsey & Company the employees were grateful that “managers would put their own jobs on the line for the good of their teams,” and now Pixar is a brand recognised movie buffs everywhere.

Okay, so it reads like the kind of story that might just make a movie but this is not a story but research that has shown us that the most important factor in a team’s group effectiveness was…….. the amount of help that staff gave to each other.  [was that even on your list?]

Why is this so significant.

Put simply it contradicts typical management thinking which suggest that anything that is not shaped around Herzberg’s Motivators and Hygiene Factors do not motivate staff. 

McKinsey’s have published some red flag areas on their web site including what happens when staff are so busy helping each other that they forget to work  and more ideas can  found in Adam Grant’s (management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School) book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Further reading

McKinsey Insights: “Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture.”

Adam Grant, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Viking, April 2013).

Hertzberg’s motivators and hygiene factors (opens an adobe .pdf file)