Sunday, March 29, 2015

Supporting Others (or not!) As We Strive to Achieve Our Goals

Stanford Professor Szu-chi Huang has co-authored an interesting new paper about goal achievement along with Susan M. Broniarczyk of the University of Texas at Austin, Ying Zhang of Peking University, and Mariam Beruchashvili of California State University at Northridge.  Their paper is titled, "From Close to Distant: The Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships in Shared Goal Pursuit.” 

What did these scholars discover about people's behavior with peers as they pursue common goals?   In the initial stages of goal pursuit, people tend to be supportive of one another.  They advise and encourage one another.   They reach out and try to help their peers.   However, as people get close to achieving their goals, they become more distant from their peers.   They are less likely to offer tips to others, or to share important and perhaps helpful information.   According to this article from the Standford Graduate School of Business, "Almost 79% of those in the advanced stage expressed feelings of distance and reluctance to share information with other members, compared with 44.4% in the early stage." 

Huang studied this phenomenon from the perspective of engaging customers in programs such as Weight Watchers.  The findings may have far-reaching implications though.  We know from a variety of studies that sharing information within groups can be a challenge.  Sometimes, we hear that people horde data because, "Information is power."  However, we know that power is not the only reason people fail to disclose information to their peers.  Sometimes, people work in different silos, and for that reason, barriers to free information flow exist.  In other cases, people do not feel safe speaking up and sharing their perspective.  This study suggests that sharing of information may be more prevalent when we begin to pursue a particular objective, but it may diminish as we approach our goals.   Teams leaders, therefore, need to be particularly mindful of facilitating information sharing and knowledge transfer as projects mature. 

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