The “Golden Rule” at Work – Re-Examined

One of the most popular axioms in western culture is the Golden Rule, loosely summarized as “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.” Although valid in general (who doesn’t want more love, respect and kindness?), the Golden Rule is flawed when it comes to personality styles and preferences. People just aren’t all wired alike; they have different needs, different ways they want to be treated. And this is particularly true during times of stress. At work, it is the leader’s task not only to know how he, himself, prefers to be treated in times of hardship, and how his staff might react in the pressure cooker, but also what each of his teammates might need in order to recover from the crisis and get back on track.

Rockin’ teams know how to “Role” with it

Hobbling down a cobblestone street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, her hand pressed firmly to her lower back, Catherine is clearly struggling with her first treasure hunt experience — and boy is she not happy about it! Her boss Steve — far, far ahead – is setting a breakneck pace, so intent is he on solving the next clue and leading his team to a morning victory. At last the lunch break arrives and, not surprisingly, all hell breaks loose! Catherine is spitting nails with Steve for driving the team so hard as to ignore her ongoing recovery from recent back surgery. Steve is hight on the defensive, declaring he was only pushing everyone so hard for the sake of team motivation and performance.

What has gone wrong here, and how can it be resolved?

Can People Really Be Motivated?

There’s an old story that goes like this:

“An elderly man has endured the insults of a crowd of ten-year-olds each day as they passed his house on their way home from school. One afternoon, after listening to another round of jeers about how stupid and ugly and bald he was, the man came up with a plan. He met the children on his lawn the following Monday and announced that anyone who came back the next day and yelled rude comments about him would receive a dollar. Amazed and excited, they showed up even earlier on Tuesday, hollering epithets for all they were worth. True to his word, the old man ambled out and paid everyone. “Do the same tomorrow,” he told them, “and you’ll get twenty-five cents for your trouble.” The kids thought that was still pretty good and turned out again on Wednesday to taunt him. At the first catcall, he walked over with a roll of quarters and again paid off his hecklers. “From now on,” he announced, “I can give you only a penny for doing this.” The kids looked at each other in disbelief. “A penny?” they repeated scornfully. “Forget it!” And they never came back again.”

– Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards – The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, 1993, Houghton Mifflin, pg. 71-72

Bump Set Teamwork

Every week for over 15 years now, I’ve spent my Sunday afternoons playing pick-up volleyball in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The group’s official name is the San Francisco International Volleyball Club, but it’s not as organized as all that. There are no league tournaments to compete in, no trophies awarded at the end of a successful season. Our interest lies simply in laughing and joking with friends, and playing the game that we all love.

Every session of Sunday volleyball plays out like a Homeric epic, a Shakespearean tragedy. There’s laughter and tears; emergent heroes; flaring tempers; and occasionally, some truly superior volleyball.

If ever there was a spot to observe teams and team dynamics in action – in all their glorious successes and ignominious failures – this is the place!