(TNS)—If there’s one thing we human beings are good at, it’s finding extremely complicated and wildly ineffective ways of addressing problems that really aren’t that hard to solve.
The workplace, more than any other arena, highlights that skillful ineptitude. Companies form committees to appoint panels to pick members for task forces that will investigate ways to cut down on unnecessary committees, panels and task forces. And so forth.
So it does my heart good to see examples of simplicity prevailing. For example, Stanford University researchers decided to take a look at the things that motivate workers, and what they found is that people will work considerably harder, longer and more effectively if they believe they are working together with other people.
That doesn’t sound revolutionary, I suppose, given that “teamwork” is such a long-standing corporate buzzword. But what was interesting in this study—which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology—is that the workers didn’t actually work together. They worked on their own but were told they were working together, a group of people each working solo toward a common goal.
The study found that “symbolic cues of working together can be sufficient to raise motivation.” And not just by a little. The people who were told they were working on a project together worked 48 percent longer than others who were given no cue of togetherness. They also felt less depleted by the task, showed greater focus and expressed more interest in the subject.
I spoke about this study with Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia Business School and author of “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.”
She was not involved with the study, but said it’s a perfect example of motivating people by understanding the way our brains work.
“We have the same brains, basically, that we had 10,000 years ago,” Halvorson said. “We evolved by working in teams, working together. So it’s easy to see why it makes sense that this would be very motivating, that we’d be wired to seek out banding together.”
The problem is, even though the word “teamwork” is tossed around willy-nilly and many companies break employees up into teams, most of us still work largely on our own.
“If you ask people how many times do you actually sit at a table and get the work done as a group, it’s not very often,” Halvorson said. “People actually work in a very solitary way.”
So if managers or team leaders aren’t injecting the concept of togetherness skillfully, the motivational factor that comes from working as a group can easily get lost.