Adam Grant made a splash with his best-seller "Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success" in which he noted that every time we interact with others at work, we can choose to give – to contribute to others without seeking anything in return – or we can choose to take – to get others to serve our needs while guarding our own expertise and time. Givers, argued Grant, a Wharton professor, are actually more successful. And because they offer more to an organization, it’s in an organization’s best interest to foster such behavior.
While any smart CIO would love to assemble a team made up entirely of technology professionals that are inherently generous with time, energy, knowledge, skills, and ideas, that’s not realistic. Even those IT leaders who recognize the value of such behavior and want to encourage it can inadvertently reward taking behavior, which can have detrimental consequences for the organization.
"Takers can really destroy the culture and emotional climate of an organization. By driving their own interests and not being willing to help others, they set a really bad example and undermine collaboration and team efforts. Also, they can make feel people feel hurt and offended, and cause impairment of the morale and corporate spirit,” says Jarkko Rantanen, a psychologist and coach specializing in workplace emotion and behavior. “The worst situation is when taker is also a high performer. Then they set an example [that] I succeed by being selfish.”
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So, what can you do instead?
1. Know the signs. Sometimes, takers are easy to identify. “They may be quite openly selfish, always looking for their own interests,” Rantanen says. Quite often, though, takers can be charming and pleasant; indeed, that may be how they get what they want. Some signs to look for include using more “I” that “we” in their communication, name-dropping, or generally selling themselves and their achievements.
“It will often become clear they're only out for themselves, and once you know what to look for it can become easy to spot the signs,” says Michelle McQuaid, workplace wellbeing teacher and author of "Your Wellbeing Blueprint: Feeling Good & Doing Well At Work" and "Your Strengths Blueprint: How to be Engaged, Energized, and Happy at Work."
2. Screen for them. “In IT functions, technical skills are often weighed [more heavily] when recruiting. This poses a risk,” Rantanen says. “Even in the IT function, social skills are crucial for collaboration and should be paid attention to.” Hiring managers should vet potential hires for signs of “taker” behavior during the interview process. “One taker in the team will skew everyone else on the team's behavior towards being more self-protective,” McQuaid says. “Takers stunt a giving culture.”
3. Give them feedback. Takers actually care a lot about how they are perceived. “If you’ve heard people don’t trust them or that they are known to be selfish, tell them that,” says Rantanen. “[They] may actually change their behavior when they learn about their reputation.” What’s more, adds McQuaid, some people aren't intentionally takers and may be unaware how their actions are impacting those around them. CIOs should make it clear that such behavior is not valued in his or her organization while also working with them to identify ways to be more generous, supportive, and successful with their colleagues, McQuaid says.
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4. Ask for reciprocation. Whenever helping takers, always ask for something in return, advises Rantanen. If a taker asks for additional resources, for example, make that dependent on him or her helping out on another project.
5. Set boundaries. If you want to make it clear that your organization values cooperation and teamwork, you have to set and reinforce boundaries for taking behavior. “Be clear that in your team that blaming others, hoarding resources, or taking credit for teamwork isn't the way we work at our best together and isn't accepted in the team,” McQuaid says. “Talk about ways as a group you can find more generous and supportive practices.”
6. Harness their strengths. Takers can be really motivated to reach their own goals. “If you can, align their own goals with your company goals," Rantanen says, “They can deliver high results.” Also, takers are not always takers. There may be certain areas in which they’re much more willing to share. “If you find and target those areas, they may be very cooperative,” says Rantanen. “For example, ‘You are so skillful with your programming. Would you be willing to help our team by sharing some of your best tips?’”
7. Train your team in effective giving. “Most people want to do a great job and be helpful to others,” says McQuaid. And as taxing and potentially toxic as taking behavior can be, givers who lack boundaries can be equally ineffective or damaging. “Rather than focus on taker behavior,” McQuaid advises, “focus on teaching staff how to be effective givers.”
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