During the January Olympic trials, Erin Jackson, the world’s top-rated 500-meter speed skater, wobbled and lost a hundredth of a second. She came in third, one spot short of qualifying. Teammate Brittany Bowe, who had qualified in the 500-meter, 1000-meter and 1500-meter races, demonstrated extraordinary sportsmanship when she gave up her 500-meter spot so that Jackson could compete in Beijing. On February 14, 2022, Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to win a solo speed skating Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics!
Bowe’s generosity was not required or expected solidarity. It was one team member extending support and kindness to help another reach her Olympic dreams. While most teams are not competing for the Olympic stage, the most successful teams collaborate with, count on, and trust each other to achieve success.
The Jackson-Bowe speed skating story demonstrates key principles from the HBR article by Teresa Amabile, Colin M. Fisher, and Julianna Pillemer: “IDEO’s Culture of Helping.” They conclude that “few things leaders can do are more important than encouraging helping behavior within their organizations.” In fact, they suggest that “…those with higher rates of helping have lower employee turnover, enjoy greater customer satisfaction, and are more profitable.” Bowe’s actions represented characteristics of IDEO’s top-ranked helpers: trust, accessibility and competence.
To encourage helping behavior in your employees, as a leader you can:
💡 Weave helping into your culture’s DNA—make it a norm to ask for, give and receive help.
💡 Promote the reality that employees will need help—and should ask for it. Helping builds psychological safety that is crucial to collaboration.
💡 Remind team members that the most complex problems require the most help and innovation.
💡 Acknowledge that it is okay to make mistakes—and to talk about and learn from those mistakes.
Former 3M CEO Lewis Lehr once said, “We can afford to make any mistake. What we can’t afford is to repeat the same mistake.” And the only way not to repeat mistakes is to help others learn from past mistakes—which requires openly sharing them.
Brittany Bowe was not asked to give up her Olympic spot; she willingly offered it to her teammate. She modeled forgoing her own recognition to help another. As a leader, you are in the best position to model desired behavior by being vulnerable yourself and asking for help. Even in virtual and/or hybrid workplaces, you can ask for help, identify where others need help, and/or design project teams that invite help from others. Remember, when we use the help asked for and offered, we make it clear that helping behavior is welcomed and desired at all levels.
To learn more about teamwork, take a look at Innolect consultants Peter Norlin and Rebecca Ripley’s OD Practitioner article, “Collaborating to Win” in OD Network
For more ideas on encouraging helping behaviors in your team, download Innolect’s Team Trust and Helpfulness Checklist.