When I was at IBM leading the software services group in Melbourne I suggested in one of our leadership meetings that we should introduce a set of group-based incentives. I was howled down and accused of being a communist. I’m not kidding. While I know fact, data and rationale alone cannot persuade someone to change their mind (and if not used carefully can reinforce the status quo – see the confirmation bias), I’d wish I’d known about this study described in Keith Sawyer’s book, Group Genius.
Ruth Wageman spent four months studying more than eight hundred service technicians in 152 groups at Xerox Corporation. One-third of the groups has assignments that needed only one technician to solve, one-third worked on more complex tasks that required teamwork to solve, and one-third worked on assignments that required some solitary work and some teamwork. Wageman then manipulated the incentive structure: manager feedback on how well they were performing, merit pay increases, profit sharing. Sixty of the groups got group rewards, fifty-five got individual rewards, and seventy-seven got a hybrid combination of both.
The group reward condition resulted most consistently in high performance, although individual rewards worked just as well for the teams that were assigned solitary tasks. But when the task required teamwork, the group reward resulted in the highest effectiveness. (Sawyer, 2007:72)
Sawyer, K. (2007). Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. New York, Basic Books.
Wageman, R. (1995). “Interdependence and Group Effectiveness.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40: 145-180.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:
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