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Get the Balance Right: Finding the “Sweet Spot” Between Ownership and Inclusion

Article posted 19th May 2017Engagement News

The field of social psychology provides some fantastic insights in to teambuilding; insights that, properly applied, could make all the difference in attempts to enhance employee engagement. One seemingly counterintuitive tip comes from research on “social identification”. This work suggests that we shouldn’t always be thinking about how to make our team members feel included. On the contrary too much emphasis on inclusion can actually counter a basic human need for distinctiveness; leading, ironically to dis-engagement with group goals.

The research on social identification tells us that people don’t just need to feel included, they need to feel they have a role to play; and that that role is important, unique and valuable. This need for uniqueness is a powerful human drive such that, when people are not given the opportunity to shine – to stand out from the crowd – they can end up pushing back against a perceived pressure to conform. 

Brexit is perhaps a good example of this; while there were many issues at play, at the heart was the notion that people were losing their distinctive British identity, and that this was being enveloped by an overly inclusive European identity. Some research has even found people would rather be worse off financially than feel overly included. It seems our desire for uniqueness literally has a price that we’re willing to pay. 
Now all this is not to say people don’t want to feel included in groups – quite the contrary! Inclusion is an incredibly powerful human drive. It’s just that this need for inclusion has to compete with a separate drive for uniqueness. What seems to be critical is achieving something called “optimal dinstinctiveness” – a sweet spot between inclusion and ownership where everyone feels both included and valued. When these two drives are balanced, people appear to work at their best: They feel on board with group goals and part of the team, while at the same time their contribution is valued, distinctive, and important. Two key ingredients of healthy engagement.

So how can we harness these insights to maximise employee engagement? In a nutshell, it matters how you frame group goals. Team leaders need to both define the goal for the team, and work hard to bring everyone on board, but they also need to ensure that each separate member of that team has a distinct role to play in achieving that goal. This ensures the team is “knitted together”, and avoids “social loafing” (where some members of the team simply disengage and let others take over).  

Get the balance right between ownership and inclusion and you’ll be well on the way to building better engagement.

Posted by Professor Richard Crisp

Richard is an award-winning scientist, writer and educator in the field of social psychology. His research focuses on the power of social influence, and how we can harness this power to achieve lasting and effective behaviour change. Richard is also an elected Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Academy of Social Sciences, and Association for Psychological Science. Richard has blogged for the New York-based magazine Psychology Today and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.