There’s an excellent article in HBR about The Culture of Helping at US innovation agency IDEO by Teresa Amabile (whose work we already love around here) Colin M. Fisher, and Julianna Pillemer.
The authors raises some issues around helping behavior and point out that helping co-workers may not come naturally:
Helpfulness must be actively nurtured in organizations, however, because it does not arise automatically among colleagues. Individuals in social groups experience conflicting impulses: As potential helpers, they may also be inclined to compete. As potential help seekers, they may also take pride in going it alone, or be distrustful of those whose assistance they could use. On both sides, help requires a commitment of time for uncertain returns and can seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Through their structures and incentives, organizations may, however unwittingly, compound the reluctance to provide or seek help.
In their study, they looked at what mattered most:
In our survey of the entire office population, people were asked to click on the names of all those who helped them in their work and to rank their top five helpers from first to fifth. (See the exhibit “What Makes an IDEO Colleague Most Helpful?”) Then they were asked to rate their number one helper, their number five helper, and a randomly suggested “nonhelper” (someone whose name they hadn’t selected) on several items. Those items assessed three characteristics: competence (how well the person did his or her job); trust (how comfortable the respondent was sharing thoughts and feelings with the person); and accessibility (how easily the respondent could obtain help from the person).
Trust and accessibility mattered much more than competence.
When looking for help, people don’t necessarily go to the smartest colleague but to the one they trust the most and have easy access to.
All in all, the article is a fascinating look into an organization that has succeeded in creating a culture where asking for and offering help is a natural part of the culture.
Go read the whole thing – it’s excellent (free to read, registration required).
I believe that a culture of helping is essential for creating a happy workplace because everything is easier, if you know you’re not alone and you can get help when you’re stuck.
Also, I believe that the desire to help others is much more common in happy workplaces. We know from several studies, that happy people are less selfish and more helpful towards others.
Another excellent example is New York-based Next Jump who make software for employee engagement programs. They transitioned their internal employee awards, so they no longer go to the best or most skilled employees, but to the ones who help others succeed the most:
In short, I believe that a culture of helping is both a tool to create a happier workplace and an indicator of workplace happiness.