Thanks to Kevin Hogan for alerting me to new research which continues to chip away at the bedrock belief – in economics and management – that we are all selfish.
Researchers, Andrew Colman, Briony Pulford and Jo Rose from the University of Leicester, conducted experiments that show evidence of collective preferences and team reasoning. This contrasts with decision theory and game theory, which fundamentally assume that people will always make decisions to maximise their individual best interests.
The research shows that under certain conditions, people will attempt to maximise the collective benefit, rather than their own personal benefit.
The questions this paper raised for me was – what are the conditions under which people will do this and how can we develop team reasoning in our teams?
Assuming I have understood the researcher’s discussion correctly, one condition where people will apply team reasoning and will demonstrate a collective preference, is when they are contributing to a public good. This supports other research which indicates that people will commit to a “cause” and fits well with our emphasis on working with clients who have a purpose beyond profit.
The second condition where people will apply team reasoning and demonstrate a collective preference is when individuals expect that their colleagues will apply team reasoning too. Again, no surprises for me here, but this is radical territory for game theorists and it also opens a new avenue for our programs to show those who are analytically and financially minded that team reasoning is a superior, not a soft option.
This research generated very fruitful discussion in a recent leadership program, where we identified that team trust breaks down when there are one or more people in a team who apply individual reasoning (i.e. act selfishly) and this causes others to question their decisions to act in the collective best interests.
We agreed that building team trust requires individual members to apply team reasoning and to value “collective maximisation” as their decision making principle.
With this group, we are now exploring whether and how we can develop team reasoning in team members who are currently known as “selfish”. Rather than say “you should be generous” we can now show individuals how team reasoning works and how it can benefit them.
These leaders are also going to review their recruitment processes, to find out how they can recruit for “team reasoning” to minimise this issue in the future.