The modern workplace is an increasingly collaborative place, with most employers hoping to tap into the collective wisdom of their employees.
I’ve written before about how something as simple as enterprise social network usage can be a good proxy for employee engagement levels.
A recent study reveals how this sense of collectiveness can also provide a substantial boost to motivation levels on even the hardest of tasks. What’s more, this feeling of belonging even provides a boost if we’re actually working on our own.
The study, which consisted of five distinct experiments, found that even rather subtle hints that we were part of a team is enough to increase both our motivation and enjoyment from challenging tasks, which in turn leads us to persevere longer with them, and of course perform better in them also.
“Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” the authors say.
The researchers suggested that working as part of a group would boost our intrinsic motivation levels because it would make even tedious tasks seem more like play.
Participants in the study began by gathering in small groups of between 3 and 5 people, before then heading off into different rooms to work on a puzzle in isolation.
Once there, they would told that they could take as long as they needed to try and solve what was in effect an impossible puzzle.
Half of the participants were given subtle hints that they were working on the challenge as part of a wider group along with the other participants. Indeed, after a short period of time, they were given hints that were supposedly from one of their colleagues.
The other group attempted to crack the puzzle without any of these cues being given to them, with the hints they received coming from the researchers rather than from their colleagues.
The power of teams
After 25 minutes had passed, each participant was told they could cease their attempts at cracking the puzzle and asked if they could complete a short survey on how the task was for them.
The results revealed that when people felt as though they were going through the challenge as part of a team, they would end up working on the challenge for around 48 percent longer than those in the control group.
What’s more, they also rated the challenge as more interesting than their peers in the isolated environment. The researchers suggest that this boost is a reflection of the increase in intrinsic motivation provided by being part of a group that is thus undertaking a fun activity together.
“It is also striking that it does not take enormous effort and change to create this feeling of togetherness,” the authors note. “Careful attention to the social context as people work and learn can help us unleash motivation.”
Of course, we should state that the paper isn’t suggesting that group work always trumps solitary endeavor, and there are various pitfalls to group activity, whether that’s through a sense of obligation or any lack of appreciation for individual contributions.
Nevertheless however, the findings are important at a time when boosting motivation, whether at work or even in school, is fundamentally important, especially in a time when we are increasingly working remotely and can therefore feel isolated and removed from the team.
“The present research found that cues that evoke this form of social interaction itself inspire intrinsic motivation, causing people to work harder on challenging tasks for their inherent satisfaction,” the authors conclude. “This tendency may help bring humans together to address common objectives and solve common problems.”