Predictably Irrational teams

Teams, networks, groups and their members behave in an irrational way but quite predictably so. A good team leader will understand this and use it to everyone’s advantage. One key point is to knowing each team members motivations and whether they are operating in “social economy” or “market economy” mindsets.

I have been reading a very interesting book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.
It is full of examples of how we all behave irrationally but in a highly predictable way that can be exploited by leaders and marketers.
I found chapter 4, “The Cost of Social Norms”, very relevant to many teams and groups today – especially teams where their might be a mix of employees and volunteers or where part of the objective is business and another part is social
The chapter is sub-titled “Why we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them
Ariely describes two economies at work – the social economy where we are doing something for free and the market economy where we are doing something for money.
He goes on to show that we can inadvertently change a person’s view of what they are doing from one economy to the other with surprising results.
For example, if we give someone a gift for helping us out they remain in the social economy and very happy to help us.
But if we offer them pay below market rates for doing the same thing they will switch to market economy thinking and become very unhappy.
It seems also that once you switch to Market Economy mode about a particular job or task then it is almost impossible for you to be switched back to social economy thinking about the same task.
This is why I believe the area of team beliefs are so critical to productivity and effectiveness. Team leaders need to give careful thought regarding team and individual motivations and if they make careless moves, often with very good intentions, they can switch their team members out of social (and happy) mode into commercial (and unhappy mode) very easily.
The book website has a nice excerpt from this chapter – “The Cost of Social Norms”:
You are at your mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and what a sumptuous spread she has put on the table for you! The turkey is roasted to a golden brown; the stuffing is homemade and exactly the way you like it. Your kids are delighted: the sweet potatoes are crowned with marshmallows. And your wife is flattered: her favorite recipe for pumpkin pie has been chosen for dessert. The festivities continue into the late afternoon. You loosen your belt and sip a glass of wine. Gazing fondly across the table at your mother- in- law, you rise to your feet and pull out your wallet. “Mom, for all the love you’ve put into this, how much do I owe you?” you say sincerely. As silence descends on the gathering, you wave a handful of bills. “Do you think three hundred dollars will do it? No, wait, I should give you four hundred!”
This is not a picture that Norman Rockwell would have painted. A glass of wine falls over; your mother- in- law stands up red- faced; your sister- in- law shoots you an angry look; and your niece bursts into tears. Next year’s Thanksgiving celebration, it seems, may be a frozen dinner in front of the television set. What’s going on here?

4 Replies to “Predictably Irrational teams”

  1. Ken
    Fantastic book recommendation!
    So far in the practical bioteaming applications I have encountered dilemmas for discerning exactly what a potential ‘bioteam’ holds as individual team karma’s – especially since most of the targets in question fall within the N-Gener category (and naturally – they require more engagement to retain their interests and foster their sense of participation)
    An extended technique I have used of Team Karma is to engage them in different scenarios (contextual variance from social and market) and to asses their responses against some kind of ‘scorecard’ to conclusively provide me with a leading indicator of where their interests lie!
    It may require some intuitive judgement when it comes to the assesment stage (but you can always try to see how they respond to certain stimuli such as providing them an idea of not for profit projects or philanthrophy)
    I believe bioteaming evangelists here can take the lessons from BLINK to shape their intuition and find practical ways of implementing such ‘tests’ (through various primers and neuro-linguistic-programming techniques) to reconcile targets responses against a ‘scorecard’ through the ‘scenario test’.
    Theres much more to this book than meets the eye!!
    – thealphaswarmer|mAx

  2. I think it’s important to understand what everyone’s motivation is number one and number two I think it’s important to have everyone focused on the goal. Yes a scorecard is not a bad idea but then what happens if each person starts to compare scorecards? Do you share that scorecard with them? In a way I would think that you would have to so that they have some type of guage of their performance.
    There is nothing worse from a team standpoint than not having pushing and pulling towards the same goal. Your motivation as a team leader will certainly fluctuate based on the social or economic goals of each member and thats ok, as long as they have an end point in site.
    Good Stuff Ken. A shoutout to Donna Brighton for suggesting your site!

  3. Marc
    Absolutely agreed that motivation is the number one driver – however – testing of these motivations to determine its not a facade is also equally as important (to find the hidden beliefs in team members)
    To facilitate the end point – team leaders must show commitment in nurturing individual team members positives and mitigating the negative behavioral dilemmas and ‘cliches’.
    Transforming and changing individual team members is not the team members role – its everyone roles – ‘bioteam members act as change agents’
    A scorecard of some sort should be defined at the beginning of team alignment as a way to influence any cultural/team variance back to equilibrium (and yes – this should be transparent also)
    Hopefully – this leads to emergence of a highly focused team (and doesnt impend onto the fallacy of composition)
    By the way – great blog Marc – have added to my Wizz RSS feeds!!
    – thealphaswarmer| mAx

  4. Thanks Ken, Ok I have one thought though, I know we have to nurture But I think the nurturing has to also be transparent so that team members do not construe the nurturing as favoritism. But to that end, I agree that if I can get the team members to support and encourage each other without my prodding then, they are well on their way to greater heights of success.

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