This week we saw the conclusion of the 2018 Winter Olympics and while this event may have ended, I want to start discussing the dynamics of human behavior that were also on display at this sporting event. As a fellow fan of the U.S. Olympic team, I was right alongside many of you reading this post cheering for our Buffalo hometown heroes (Tricia Mangan, David Leggio, Emily Pfalzer) as well as the entire U.S. team, which had representation from around the country. It was incredible to follow the Cinderella story of the U.S. curling team, to watch Shaun White break down the mental barriers from the previous Winter Olympic games, and share in the pure enthusiasm seen from Chloe Kim and other newcomers. Similar to many, I was also rooting against adversaries from other nations and coming up with explanations for how other countries could possible beat the United States’ medal count. It was entertaining to read and hear comments ranging from Norwegians being born on skis to Katie Couric’s infamous Netherland transportation system comment of ice skating on canals in order to get to work. Needless to say, throughout the games, we not only watched these incredible athletes perform at their best but we also got to witness genuine human biases at play.
Let’s dive into one of these natural tendencies, in-group bias, and highlight some of the ironies surrounding this way of thinking. In the aforementioned example, many of us probably found ourselves naturally cheering on fellow countrymen and women throughout the Olympic games and also found ourselves easily rooting against participants from other nations. This pervasive tendency to prefer “us” over “them” with in-group bias is a powerful mechanism found amongst fans across all of the various events. But, with the conclusion of the Winter Olympic Games, who do you cheer for now? It is with this question some interesting findings come out. So, with no U.S team to cheer on, we now need to shrink the size of the black box through which we view the world and look closer to home. Naturally, we cheer on teams from our hometown (e.g. Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Bills) and root against teams from distant locations (e.g. California: L.A. Rams). Yet, ironically we were just cheering for individuals from that same exact state a week ago during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. But let’s keep going, if we zoom in even closer to home, we may cheer for teams from the college/university we attended and root against institutions potentially miles apart from one another. If we zoom in even closer, we find ourselves as passionate fans of our alma mater high school sports team and root against rivals that are potentially walking distance away from the school. It begs the question, at what point do we just prefer ourselves and our own way of thinking and root against everyone else?
In the business world, I think the games are even more intense. From my experience, it is incredible to consult with a variety of businesses and see a similar situation as mentioned above. How many times have you had a leader within your organization say, “It’s my way or the highway” or just completely shut down differing ideas? How many times does a leader of an organization get upset when a different, competing idea is mentioned? How many times does a leader get upset when someone else doesn’t operate the same way they do? How many times does a leader create a culture of fear and submission? How many times does a leader of an organization steal the show? If the Olympics can teach us one thing, it is that teamwork and collaborating together brings home the gold whereas those who are not supported consistently fail to reach the podium. Research shows organizations which promote diversity in thinking are associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits (review in Herring, 2009).
I want to hear your thoughts on how you have or would like to promote workplace teamwork. How have you fostered collaboration in your workplace? How did you overcome the challenges associated with in-group bias? How do you begin supporting and not oppressing the members of your team? How have you reached for the gold?
If you are looking for ideas on where to start, take a look at our in-house, onsite and You, Inc. services today. Want to chat about how you can cultivate stronger workplace collaboration? Give us a call: 800.230.9651