The simple explanation is that cooperation is evolutionarily rewarding. The story goes like this:
‘We were only able to defeat much larger, more dangerous species because of our ability to work together – to cooperate, work in teams and help each other out. That’s how we became the earth’s dominant animal’.
But this only makes sense at a species level. If we look at our own individual survival, it would be far more beneficial sometimes not to cooperate. We could hoard more resources for ourselves, benefit from other people’s misfortune and generally get ahead.
And this sometimes happens. People forgo cooperation in favour of their own individual benefit.
So how do we enforce cooperation and fairness? There are some simple rules, spawned from evolution and game theory, that tend to work for all species. And, whether inadvertently or be design, eBay has implemented these principles to create one of the true self-regulating markets of the information age. So let’s take a look at the principles
Principle #1 – Open-Book Play forces cooperation
Open-Book Play simply means that all people participating in the ‘game’ are able to see how everyone else has played in past games. If everyone knows what sort of strategy you adopt (do you cheat regularly or do you usually do the right thing?) then you are more likely to cooperate. eBay publishes your feedback right alongside your username. If people can see what you’ve done in the past, you’re more likely to do the right thing.
Principle #2 – Repeated Interactions
We are most likely to cheat if there is a one-off interaction with no future consequence. eBay can’t stop people having only one interaction, but this is obviously rare. And even though you might have only one interaction with a particular buyer or seller, you will have repeated interactions with the eBay community. This works in conjunction with Principle #1 to ensure cooperation.
Principle #3 – Third Party Punishment
One of the most compelling ‘rules’ of cooperation is the idea of third party punishment. Cooperation flourishes when A does something bad to B, and C, an observing bystander, punishes A for doing so. eBay makes this happen again through the publishing of past performance. If you do the wrong thing, you can essentially be ‘punished’ by way of others excluding you from the game. At eBay, that means that no one will want to sell to you or buy from you.
So how can we apply this in an every day business setting? Here are four things you can start doing straight away.
Make the rules transparent
Rules are the first thing that we need to focus on. Before we are able to hold people accountable for any behaviours, we need to make the rules of engagement clear. Work through these with your team. How do you want to treat each other? How do you want to treat clients?
Enforce the rules in public
There is an age old management saying: praise in public, punish in private. This is a great thing to remember, but there also needs to be a delicate balance. If someone breaks the team rules, people within the team need to know that something is being done about it. If they think that you are not paying attention to these behavioural discrepancies, they won’t understand that the rules are genuine. Also, as the above principles of cooperation demonstrate, if your team members don’t understand that their reputation is on the line – they can break the rules without fear of damaging their reputation.
Make working together a part of every day
Make sure there are repeated, mutually beneficial interactions amongst your staff in some way, shape or form every single day. You’d be surprised how little cooperation is necessary in most teams – because we don’t create common goals that people genuinely need to work together to achieve.
Create mutual accountability
Mutual accountability is the holy grail of teamwork. Set an expectation that you want your staff to hold each other accountable – that it shouldn’t be up to the leader to do it all the time. After all, what happens when the leader isn’t there to see something happen? This is something you can do only once you have a high level of trust and support in the team and a commitment to open and honest communication.
If you can somehow implement the cooperation principles, then your level of collaboration is going to go up enormously. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s worth the investment.
See www.tony-wilson.com.au for more
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