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Summarizing 'Give and Take - A Revolutionary Approach to Success'

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Back in 2013, Adam Grant published a seminal book called ‘Give and Take’. An organizational psychologist and one of Wharton’s top professors, Grant was already a New York Times best selling author when he penned ‘Give and Take’ which was named one of the best books of the year by Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, as well as one of Oprah’s riveting reads and the Washington Post’s books every leader should read. 


In ‘Give and Take’, Grant proposes that the focus on performance in workplaces should be less directed to the individual, and more to the team. He suggests we should be looking closely at employee interaction - most specifically, their willingness to help. Grant’s research showed that organizational success is increasingly dependent on interaction and that in the workplace, people tend to either:

  • take from others (takers), 
  • trade their time and information evenly with others (matchers), 
  • or contribute without expecting anything in return (givers).


Read chapter one of Give and Take 


Watch Adam Grant’s TED talk on givers and takers


Most people fall into the "matchers" category. Conducting extensive organizational research among engineers, medical students, and sales staff, Grant found that the most generous salespeople achieved the lowest sales results, the most generous students received the lowest grades, and the most giving engineers who spent so much time helping other people do their jobs, they ran out of time and energy to do their own. However the twist is while sacrificing themselves, givers often make their organizations better.


After 38 studies across 3,611 work units looking at the frequency of generosity across an organization, Grant discovered that the more people are sharing knowledge and mentoring, the better the organization does across every measurable metric - profits, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and lower operating expenses to name a few. 


If givers are the individual personal performers in an organization, you would think the takers or matchers were the best performers, but Grant found this wasn’t the case. In every study Grant completed, the givers actually also demonstrated the best results. How could that be when they were also performing so poorly? Across the data, the givers spanned both extremes, that is, among salespeople, for example, the givers make up the majority of people who bring in the lowest revenue but also the majority that generates the highest revenue. He found the same trends for engineers’ productivity and medical students’ grades. 


Givers were overrepresented at both the bottom and top of every trackable metric. 


So Grant became committed to finding out how we can make workplaces where givers can excel. He has found a number of conditions that are integral to helping givers succeed.


1. Protect them from burnout

To create an organization where the givers are the ones at the positive extreme of performance, it’s important that givers’ contributions are valued and moreover, their energy valued and apportioned so they don’t burn out. Grant gives an example of a hospital ward where there is a nurse solely designated to helping the other nurses. This kind of rostering is a logical way to prevent burnout and actively foster a culture where it’s not only OK to ask for help - it’s encouraged - there is a designated staff member assigned for just that purpose.


2. Create a culture of asking for help

Creating a culture that actively encourages asking for help not only protects givers but also motivates more people to become givers because 75-90% of all giving in organizations starts with a request. People have a lot of difficulty asking for help. We’ve looked at some of these difficulties and how to overcome them in our earlier article, ‘How to ask for help at work’. The more people can feel safe to ask for help, the more give and take you can generate.


3. Be careful about who you hire

The negative impact of a taker on culture is usually double to triple the effect of a giver. One rotten apple really does spoil the barrel. A taker on a team will make all the other givers stop giving. And if you have a team where there is only one giver, their generosity won’t rub off on the others. It’s unlikely one giver can create more givers. Rather, everyone else will take advantage of that generosity and take rather than give more! So effective team building is not about bringing in givers, but removing takers so you’re left with all givers and matchers. 


How to create more give and take

Fast forward to 2021 and along with writing some more books, doing TED talks, and being recognized as one of the world’s ten most influential management thinkers, Grant co-founded the Give and Take company, along with Wayne and Cheryl Baker. The aim of the company is to provide software solutions that make it quick and easy to share knowledge and ask for help, building the kind of organizational cultures Grant talks about in helping givers succeed. 


They have developed a knowledge-sharing platform called Givitas that can be used for employees in an organization or across other communities like universities or nonprofits. It’s a social networking platform that’s designed to allow users to seek and offer help in less than 5 minutes a day.


If you’re a global company with offices around the world or working remotely, Givitas is worth a look for bringing your workforce together. There’s a case study on their website and some data on the ROI of asking for and giving help within companies. 


Give and Take also have another solution called Reciprocity Ring, and during the pandemic, they’re offering it virtually. The Reciprocity Ring is used by companies like Google and Deloitte. It’s a one-off group exercise that teams can undertake as opposed to a tool staff can use for daily interaction (Givitas). So if you’re looking to build skills of asking for help and giving help within your organization, you could consider undertaking some training for your organization with the Reciprocity Ring and following it up with the daily practice of Givitas.


Or brainstorm your own solutions for your organization as to how you can create a culture where givers thrive and bring all the associated benefits of increased productivity and results.


Start by looking at how you can make it safe to ask for help. Survey your teams as to how safe they feel asking for help and what factors prevent them from asking for help. Tackle these factors with your management team and look at Grant’s advice on the composition of teams. Work with HR to determine if there are any takers holding everyone back. They’re not always easy to spot and Grant has some good advice in his TED talk and book as to how to spot a taker. 


Then look at what measures your organization could introduce to encourage giving and protect givers from burnout. Make sure your mentorship and training programs are running smoothly with an opportunity for everyone in the organization to contribute in some way, regardless of their level in the hierarchy.


Brainstorm opportunities to help with your team. Get your team to talk about ideas on not only how they can help each other, but also how they can help other departments and other offices around the organization. Is there some outreach they can help with in their local community or a project that might be in a different industry but has some kind of relevant fit with your organization? And of course, how can they help your customers and other end users?


Building a culture of give and take is worth it. As Grant has shown, it’s not an issue of personality, but values and an investment in fostering giving is an investment in the bottom line. Grant’s research proves that all business metrics improve when employees collaborate. Now more than ever with dispersed, remote workforces and significant financial challenges, it’s time to harness people power in solving problems together.

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