I will start with a story from my dad who explained me one of the key problems in collective actions.

Once upon a time in a village, a priest ordered each family in a village to donate 1 litre of milk for a temple. The villagers have to come between midnight and 4 am to pour the milk into a tank constructed for milk storage. The total expected quantity of milk was 100 litres. Next day when the priest came after sunrise and opened the tank, he was shocked. The tank didn’t have any milk in it. All it had was water.

If you have been managing teams for a while the first term that might come to your mind may be “Free-Riding”. Free-Riding brings down the team productivity and quality. The challenge that managers face is how to increase collective action in the team.

The most important areas to focus when promoting collective action in teams are increasing commitment of team members and increasing compliance to defined policies and processes.

Here are some of the ways in which we can motivate the teams to perform collectively and also minimize the free-rider impact.

Weather the storm

Teams get stuck in the storming stage for a long period of time. It is very important for managers to handle this storming phase in team formation. Over the years I learnt that during this phase of team formation, the team members should spend some time outside of work in a social environment. This helps them to get to know their team members well and also make personal connections, identify common interests, eliminates any prejudgements etc. This lubricates the friction generated by the disagreements and disputes in the team. Once a team emerges out of storming phase successfully then it is easy to perform collective action.

Team consensus

Team should arrive at a consensus to handle free-rider. It is good for a team when all team members decide limit to free-riding, warning procedures and actions to be taken. While team should arrive at consensus to handle free-rider problem, the actions must be taken by the manager not by a group of team members, otherwise this will result in humiliation of the team member. If a team member has a personal situation he/she can communicate that to the manager instead of broadcasting it to the team.

Raising the bar

One of the ways to minimize free-riding is to make the team members feel that working in your team is a privilege and that there are other people waiting to pay premium for this privilege. One of the ways to provide this feeling of privilege is by setting high standards and raising the bar. One of the managers I worked for was very good at this. Recognition, respect, responsibilities and results are some of the things that people treat as privilege and willing to pay a premium for that by increasing their commitment.

Sell the big Picture

This is a tip from my friend who works for a non-profit organization. He would frequently outline the impact they have on the society and how noble their cause is. He would not say it like a broken record in every week’s status meeting. He would say it in a different way each time and quote one specific example of customer story. This motivated the team to perform collectively. I followed his advice and I would tell my team members how big of impact their project has on the clients’ business and share good feedbacks from clients to the developers immediately. Big numbers motivate the team and it makes team come together for daunting tasks. One of the projects we worked on few years go was a desktop application. The application was simple and team was doing good job but when I told them that this application will be distributed in CD with a book and that its user base can reach 10,000 easily. The team took extra care in developing and testing the application.

Process first prowess next

When it comes to increasing compliance in team, promote “process first” culture. Introduce audits to measure process adherence. Implement accountability mechanisms to make people take responsibilities for their actions and consequences. Make the team a level playing field as much as possible. Collect metrics and use that to provide feedback to team.

Hope this article helps you to increase collective action in your team.

Credits and References

  • My managers.
  • Teams I managed.
  • Team members.