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Is niceness the key to collaboration?


When Adam Grant published Give and Take last year, he popularised the notion that being a good person mattered, both in life and in work.  He highlighted that the key is that in long-term relationships, giving is a fantastic strategy.  Building the kind of long-term relationships with your customers, with your colleagues, and with other stakeholders in your business requires therefore a giving strategy.

Now, I’ve written a bit recently about having a sense of purpose and work and the importance of having this shared identity in order to lead a group of people successfully.  A new study published recently by Yale has looked at the role identity plays in the formation of groups, and found that our selection process isn’t particularly ‘deep’ whatsoever.

It found that the groups we form don’t tend to coalesce around worthy topics such as purpose or principals, nor even do they emerge around more traditional identities surrounding race or religion.  Instead, the groups we form boil down, they say, to nothing more than whether people are nice to us or not.  From this humble beginning, we then tend to like friends of their friends, with the adverse that we dislike enemies of our friends.

“It is hard to tease out root causes of group formation because observable differences such as race or language may arise because people already live in groups,” said David Rand, assistant professor of psychology at Yale and co-lead author of the study. “What we show is that you can strip away all those factors, and groups will still emerge.”

Suffice to say, the researchers are reluctant about drawing to wide a conclusion from their study, but they are clear in their conclusion that groups can, and do, form often without any of the traditional traits used to define particular communities.

“We talk about post-racial, post-religious America—the idea that we can put people into a melting pot and dissolve differences to make people a unified people,” Gray said. “But the thing is that people get into groups naturally, even if they literally don’t see race, or even understand that there is an ‘us versus them.’”

Given that we increasingly want employees collaborating and innovating together however, it might be worth following Adam Grant’s advice and encouraging them to just be a bit kinder to one another.

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