Tag Archives: social loafing

Teams and Groupthink

group_of_business_people_1600_wht_8392It’s two years since the Treasury Select Committee published its findings on the global financial breakdown.

Reading the various reports on the Treasury Select Committee’s findings brought back memories of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 which failed and probably strengthened Castro’s position.

Irving Janis’s extensive work on the subject of Groupthink included his analysis of the reasons for that and other failures. And it still holds true today.

In recent times it has become a common belief that team working is the key to delivering results and that the more cohesive the group, the more effective it is.

It may be more fun to work in such a group but the evidence also suggests that members of groups may indulge in “social loafing”, there can be diffusion of responsibility in the absence of individual goals, and that sometimes individuals can outperform teams.

Janis proposed that close-knit teams are insufficiently critical of each other, don’t seek alternatives, believe in the group’s invincibility, want consensus, restrict negative information and generally, as the Select Committee said, adopt a herd mentality.

The Select Committee suggested that diversity was the answer – in this example by having more women at senior levels. This is old news now; on a similar note in Management Today at the time Emma de Vita bemoaned the testosterone fuelled culture in the city and made some interesting points about leadership styles.

She also and cited some research at London Business School that found that having a 50-50 gender balance produced more effective, stable and innovative teams. A finding that the Norwegian government  put into practice in 2008 so that all public companies are required by law to have 40% of females on the board. Spain had just given companies 10 years to follow suit. http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/865053/

It had previously been suggested in The Times suggested that women board members may be better at getting rid of bad bosses (but not as good at making money) as women tend not to meet at the golf course or the club and may be less susceptible to groupthink.

Gender is not the only difference that organisations should explore however. Different socio-economic backgrounds, qualifications, and career experiences are probably more important. See post on Teams & Diversity

And the dangers of creating an inner cabal or kitchen cabinet probably cost the Conservatives electoral victory in 2010.
The failure of the Tory’s “Big Idea” to energise voters and the last-minute slide in the polls infuriated many conservative MPs. They blamed David Cameron’s “Leadership by Inner Circle”.

He apparently relied on a close group of advisors rather than the shadow cabinet which he informed rather than consulted. Candidates were saying that the public wasn’t interested in the “Big Idea” but more mundane issues such as crime and immigration. Failure to listen to critics and a wider circle is symptomatic of Groupthink.

Original post 12 April 2010

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Are your employees engaged?

The Sunday Times “Best Companies to Work For survey”, which has now canvassed over a million workers since 2000, has identified eight factors that foster workplace engagement.

The factor with the strongest correlation is Leadership: employees must have faith and trust in their senior management team to be engaged.

To do that leaders must gain their trust, live the values, and inspire the team.

Their 2009 survey revealed, in answer to the statement “I have great confidence in the leadership skills of the SMT”, there was a 54% difference between engaged and disengaged employees. In answer to the statement; “senior management truly live the values of this organisation”, there was a 51% difference.

In the top 10% of companies there was a massive 94% confidence rating that the leader ran the company on moral principles.  Would that figure be so high today in the depths of a recession?

Giving something Back (GSB) is one way of engaging employees. Organisations with a good track record of this get higher scores from staff for leadership, pride in their company, and personal well-being.

There does seem to be a rash of books and articles on the new leadership approach needed since the recession. And values and principles are high up among the key factors which is maybe why organisations turn to women when they are in a crisis as they appear to be more trusted as CEOs even though, or maybe because, they  seem more willing to criticise their organisations.

Updated since first published 02/04/2010

Council gets tough on time-wasters?

Carlisle City Council briefly got tough on time-wasters before it caved in and apologised.

According to a report in the CIPD’s People Management magazine (but also reported world-wide) two team leaders in the City Council’s benefits department got fed up listening to staff wasting time talking about things like the weather, holidays and babies.

So they sent out an e-mail accusing staff of treating work like a holiday camp and suggested that if they wanted to talk about non-work stuff they should clock out and do it in non-work time. According to the Cumberland News they said; “In order to ensure maximum output is produced, the working ethos within the office will need to change. Staff should be aware of the reason why they are here, which is to work and not to treat the office as a day-to-day holiday camp. It is not a requirement for you not to talk to your fellow colleagues but you should ensure that non-work conversations are kept to a minimum.”

They continued: “Staff should log into systems first thing and not ‘catch up on the gossip’. Smokers are required to clock out when they want a cigarette. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect you to clock out if you wish to have a 10-minute conversation with a colleague about the weather?” The email ends: “The way we have worked previously cannot be sustained in the current economic climate and we must all change our ways.”

The email listed examples such as conversations about holidays, babies or pets, looking at photographs and social networking, sport or fashion websites, and postings on chat, for-sale or wanted websites.

Perhaps predictably Ged Caig, regional organiser for the GMB, said: “I’ve been doing this job for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unbelievable. Morale is rock-bottom already because of the threat of redundancy. For managers to issue this is disgraceful. The workforce feel threatened enough. The city council prides itself on being a good employer but this isn’t the action of a good employer. If any staff want to make representations, I will be pleased to take it up on their behalf.” Is he really going to represent a member of staff who admits to internet surfing and blog posting on the Council’s time?

Dr Jason Gooding, the council’s deputy chief executive, said:“On this occasion the approach to managing staff has fallen a little short of the high standards the council has rightly come to expect of its team leaders and managers. Discussions on performance and capability should generally be conducted face to face with the relevant members of staff – not through general email communication. We will be working with managers and staff to ensure positive lessons are learned following this experience. This is an isolated incident and does not reflect the management style we are working hard to develop.”

He didn’t actually say what that style was (and sometimes I wonder  about the public sector) and whilst I agree that individual poor performance should be dealt with face-to-face where there is a pervasive culture of skiving it seems appropriate to send out a general warning, a “shot across the bows”. And does the Council have a policy about personal internet use or are they happy for their employees to conduct their private business in works’ time? I don’t think there are many private sector managers who would disagree with the sentiments expressed in the e-mail and the council tax payers are probably unhappy as well. David and Neil, you might even get nominated for “managers of the month!”

If you have ever worked in an office where people seem to spend more time chatting or surfing than actually doing any work then you would understand the team leaders’ frustration. (And is it any wonder managers turn to drink?) I am not against staff having breaks and socialising, as it’s an important part of being at work and helps maintain work-life balance, but where do you draw the line?

The public sector is often criticised for low levels of productivity and high levels of sickness absence and the Carlisle City Council was criticised for its high levels of sickness absence in its 2009 organisational assessment and met only minimum requirements in the way it managed resources (a score of 2 out of 4). It was also criticised in the local press for re-employing a senior manager only weeks after making him redundant.

Happiness and Productivity

Are happy workers more productive or are more productive workers happier?

This is a question that has exercised work and organisational psychologists for over 50 years. And there have been mixed results from workplace interventions. For example in Sweden – with a highly educated workforce doing repetitive work in the car industry – increasing job satisfaction reduced absenteeism but didn’t increase productivity.

Now economists at Warwick University think they have the answer. The Sunday Times article; “Why happy people are the hardest workers” (11 July 2010) reported Professor Andrew Oswald as saying; “… human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings while negative emotions have the opposite effect”. (This is straight from the positive psychology handbook of course and as a psychologist I wonder why they didn’t just ask one of us).

The research team carried out a range of experiments and showed their subjects either a comedy film or a boring (placebo) film. The subjects who reported higher happiness levels after seeing the comedy film were 12% more productive whereas unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

However those subjects who watched the comedy film but did not report increased happiness were not more productive. So the increase in productivity was linked to an increase in happiness but not to just watching a comedy film.

A surprise finding was that those subjects who had experienced a death in the family in the last two years were 10% less productive. But subjects whose parents had divorced recently didn’t appear less happy or less productive. Perhaps with divorce being so common it’s  no longer seen as a negative life event.

They conclude that if happiness does bring increased productivity then HR departments and business managers should be paying more attention to the influence of emotions at work.

This is interesting but there are lots of questions. Some companies have tried to inject fun into work, for example call centres (often the modern equivalent of Victorian sweat shops) but I haven’t seen any evidence it does anything than temporarily alleviate boredom.

The fact that some subjects didn’t report increased happiness after seeing the film might be because they didn’t think the film was funny (it featured a well-known British comedian for a start) and humour is very subjective.

The subjects’ personality as measured by the Big 5 might have been a factor. Extraverts tend to be happier and more positive than Introverts and also respond better to incentives (the subjects were paid an attendance fee plus a performance fee depending on their output).

It also appears that the subjects were working individually rather than in teams. This reduces the element of “social loafing” and usually maximises the incentive effect but there is a strong social effect when working with friends or in teams, especially for more sociable types.

Anything that improves employee engagement (at an all-time low at the moment) is of interest to business leaders but I can’t help thinking that the more holistic approach adopted by companies like Sony Film is worth looking into. See “Rituals engage staff”.

Danger – Jealousy at work

Jealousy and envy are closely related but jealousy is usually when you wish you had something someone else has got eg a pay rise,or a plum project, and envy is when you haven’t got it and when you wish they hadn’t either.

Envy is about feeling inferior, being resentful, and wishing ill-will to others. It also tends to be more about being competitive.

Jealousy can also be aspirational or inspirational in encouraging you to better yourself so that you can also achieve what the other person has.

Research in USA by Professor Robert Vecchio suggests that 3 out of 4 people have witnessed jealousy at work and up to 50% of people have become involved in it in some way.

People who are more envious of others at work are more likely to be the ones who use “social loafing” (not pulling their weight) to even up the score. They are also more likely to be looking for other jobs.

People with a strong work ethic who are sensitive to work issues are more likely to get emotional about them as much as people with low self-esteem who think work is all about being competitive.

Generally woman are more likely to be jealous about social relationships; men to envy others in a competitive way.

Lack of consideration by supervisors can lead to jealousy and it is more likely to happen in a small office. People who work in large offices tend to assume that unequal treatment is because of bureaucratic inefficiency.

If you are the object of jealousy or envy:

  • Focus on the good things in your job (count your blessings) to bolster your self-esteem
  • Be humble – don’t flaunt your success
  • Don’t get involved in the drama
  • Help others to achieve and be as successful as you

There are also things organisations can do:

  • Create more of a team culture
  • Encourage cooperation rather than competition through incentives
  • Encourage a more participative style of leadership – encouraging input
  • Recruit emotionally mature people
  • Use high achievers as role models, mentors or coaches

And the office romance? Jealousy about sex or romance is a 3-way relationship; the focus of your attention plus the rival, which can produce feelings of loss, distrust or betrayal. But that’s a different posting.