Guy Kawasaki highlights a fascinating study conducted by the psychologist Kathleen Vohs. Vohs performed experiments in which, prior to being assigned certain collaborative activities, some participants were cued to think about money while other participants were not prompted to think about money. The results suggest that thinking of money makes individuals less likely to work with others.
In one experiment, the researchers gave volunteers a difficult puzzle and told them to ask for help at any time. People who had been reminded of money waited nearly 70% longer to seek help than those who hadn’t. People cued to think of money also spent only half as much time, on average, assisting another person who asked for their help with a word problem and picked up fewer pencils for someone who’d dropped them.
The antisocial behavior didn’t end there. Volunteers reminded of money preferred working alone even if sharing the task with a co-worker resulted in substantially less work.
Taken together, Vohs says, the findings suggest that thinking of money puts people in a frame of mind in which they don’t want to depend on others and don’t want others to depend on them.
If merely thinking about money can make individuals less likely to work with others, what implications do these findings have for teams in business settings? I have a couple of suppositions.
One possible implication is that financial incentives may have the unintended consequence of decreasing an individual’s preference for teamwork. To guard against this result, organizations can structure incentives to reward the entire team, thereby avoiding the need for team members to compete for zero-sum bonuses.
Another implication is the need for teams to downplay money altogether, so that team members can “think” mostly about the team’s objectives. Although entirely eliminating thoughts of money is unrealistic, managers can recognize the effects highlighted in the study and attempt to de-emphasize money relative to team goals.