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Organisational Culture: Do the wheels on your bus go round and round?




During our engagements with executive teams, we gather a multitude of perspectives on individual performance within organisations.


As is our role, we are regularly asked for feedback on individuals and insights into what people are saying, how they are behaving and if they are the right people for the job.


In one particular instance, an executive used the following analogy in seeking some honest feedback. Have we got the right people on the bus? The short answer — are we asking the right question?


What kind of bus are we driving?


Is it safe to ask for help on this bus?


In our experience, the environments in which asking for help is encouraged, are the ones that drive cultures of enquiry and innovation.


Have you encountered an organisation where the general feeling has been that it is best to keep your head down or you risk putting it on the chopping block? When faced with this scenario, we challenge the negative impact of this culture with leadership.


Having expressed what needed saying but did not want to be heard often provokes a default response of jumping on the defensive and entering denial territory.

This scenario exposes a disconnect and talks to the power of perspective.


In exploring the concept of the bus further, we uncovered some great insights from renowned organisational psychologist and Wharton Business School Professor Adam Grant.


He discusses the traits of givers, takers and matchers within the organisational context and how their level of agreeableness can often mask a contrasting interior. We will focus on understanding the taker — more on givers and matchers in later posts.


To discern the takers and weed them out is key to ensuring a help-seeking and collaborative culture is fostered and protected.

There are two stages at which this can occur — Pre and post-recruitment. The former is a somewhat easier proposition.


Grant suggests that those who kiss up and kick down are inevitably the ones who are more likely to be takers. One way to counter this is to ask questions laterally. When recruiting, engage the perspective of their peers in addition to references in more senior positions – how do they interact with others.


Examine how they share both successes and failures. When interviewing a taker, expect to see a lot of I’s when success is on the agenda and a lot of we and they when things aren’t going so well.


Counteracting the taker mentality does not necessarily mean kicking them off the bus at first opportunity is the best solution. It is thinking about the bigger picture. There is every possibility that they are going to jump on that next bus with the same orientation as when they were let off at the last stop.


Shifting the inclinations of a taker requires a selfless dedication, however it’s not impossible and may well serve a greater purpose. After all, isn’t that the description of a giver?


There are some meaningful avenues we often embrace when interacting with teams. For example, look for the perhaps rare moments of selflessness that takers may display and celebrate these wins! This will provide a dopamine hit that may just keep them coming back for more.


Positive reinforcement changes behaviour for the better, while criticism stabilises negative behaviours and blocks change ~ Virginia H. Pearce

On a larger scale, gearing reward systems away from individual performance – focusing on team success — is a constructive path to more systemically weed out takers. Adding incentives for those who measurably contribute to the team is crucial to avoid rewarding non-contributors.


Mentorship programs are another way in which to encourage more selfless attitudes amongst the innate takers of an organisation. Being sought out for advice and encouraging a culture of knowledge sharing will provide the impetus for widespread change.


Alternatively there are more direct approaches that can be employed. Providing feedback on reputation, not criticism, requires colleagues having the fortitude to pull a taker aside and relay the impact that their behaviours are having in corroding trust levels amongst their team.


Even takers don’t like to be confronted with these traits. This builds accountability when they are consistently held to the same standards as everybody else. Self-selection is often their next best option.


We feel no one thing should ultimately define who should be on the bus. An understanding of the seats available, the bus dynamics and direction of the bus all form part of the equation.


When debating the significance of this challenge, we urge you to consider the following. In his research, Grant has found that the negative impact of takers is two to three times that of the positive impact of givers.


His solution? Get the right people on the bus to ensure the people on the bus keep the wrong people off the bus.


*Is your bus due for a service?


Blog Tags: Givers, Takers, Organisational Culture, Collaboration

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