How We Perform Better

30 June 2008

It is entirely possible to develop a culture where employees perform better than can be reasonably expected. Two BI researchers have some good advice.

How is it possible that the Norwegian national football team can beat great football nations like Brazil, Argentina, and England?

On paper, the Norwegian team doesn't have much of a chance when we consider individual players' skills and capabilities alone.

“Is it possible that the Norwegian football team, at its best, has found a way to perform together that enables them to maximally exploit individual competence?”

This question has been posed by Professor Svein S. Andersen and Lecturer Øyvind Sæther at the Department of Leadership and Organisational Management at BI Norwegian School of Management.

Excel as a Group

We can find similar examples in both the public and private sectors; that the best team on paper achieves the best results, is not necessarily so.

The “best” players can risk losing themselves in individual excellence, and endless discussions of various solutions.

On the other hand, teams with a weaker foundation can solve problems more quickly and with better results than their presumably stronger competitors.

“In order to excel as a group, we have to be aware that we are a group,” point out Andersen and Sæther.

Even though it can sound a little trivial, there are enough examples that parts of an organisation live their own lives, without feeling like a part of a larger community.

“Even where it is clear to everyone that it is impossible to succeed alone, there are examples of individual players who have forgotten this simple point,” maintain the BI researchers.

Developing a Culture of Community

Andersen and Sæther are, in their research, concerned with what is required to achieve first-rate results with normal employees. They are studying performance development and mobilisation of competence, both in sport and in business.

Their results have been presented in an article in the popular science magazine, Magma (no. 1/2008).  In their article, they launch a new model for developing a culture of performance, which builds on two main dimensions, collaboration and harmony.

Factors for Collaboration

The researchers identify five key factors to achieve collaboration.

  1. We want to win together.  Firstly, employees must have both the will and ability to collaborate.  They want to learn from each other and improve each other, and they acknowledge that there is a reciprocal dependence between them.
  2. Knowledge of each other.  Employees have knowledge of each other's strong and weak sides.  It is crucial to know who can be used for what.
  3. Respect for expertise.
  4. Respect for personal limits.
  5. Can trust each other.

In addition to being able to work well together, employees must also be harmonised in their efforts.

Factors for Harmony

“Harmony between employees contributes to providing direction to the work process,” emphasise Andersen and Sæther, and point to 4 key factors for harmony:

  1. Understand value creation. It is important to have a common understanding of what we are doing, which values we are creating, and how (often called vision and business concept).
  2. Understand and accept the organisation's strategy.
You can also see all news here.