Could you stand to improve the way your nonprofit staff work together as a team?
In How to Collaborate with and Influence People Using the SCARF Model, Martin Luenendonk, CEO of Cleverism, offers an in-depth explanation of how to better manage groups and improve co-operation by understanding what drives social behavior.
You can apply the 5 steps he describes to influence members of your nonprofit team to work together more cooperatively.
These steps are based on brain studies that reveal the human brain’s instinctive approach-avoid response.
What you want to do is reinforce the ‘approach’ response while minimizing the ‘avoid’ response.
The SCARF model was first published in 2008 by David Rock. Its premise is that the brain causes people to behave in predictable ways to minimize threats and maximize rewards. SCARF stands for:
- Status – the relative importance to others.
- Certainty – the ability to predict future events.
- Autonomy – the sense of control over events.
- Relatedness – the sense of safety with others.
- Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges.
Let’s look at how you can tap into the power of SCARF.
People want to avoid diminution of status. It negatively impacts their sense of worth. In the workplace people will avoid job feedback like the plague, fearing that the very process of performance evaluations may lead to them being perceived as less valued than others.
How might you improve your process of employee evaluations to change people’s avoidance response to this process?
TIP: Instead of providing feedback, allow people to give feedback about themselves or the project. Build a culture where feedback is a two-way street, and not a scary one.
TIP: Focus more on what’s going well, rather than on what’s going wrong. Working in nonprofits for 30+ years, I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen performance evaluations center on the one thing out of ten that didn’t work out. Not only is this demoralizing, it’s counter-productive. If someone is good at 9 things, have them do more things like that. Don’t have them focus all their energy in the coming year on the one thing they don’t do well. Get someone else to take that on.
TIP: Offer rewards. Sometimes nonprofits are not in the position to offer raises and bonuses as is the norm in for-profit settings. But there’s still lots you can do. How about:
- Change of title
- Addition of supervision responsibility
- Gift of paid-for education opportunities (ideally in an area that connects with the employee’s strengths rather than weaknesses)
- Gift of time off to volunteer outside of work
- Extra vacation or “personal” time
- Public recognition of a job well done (e.g., announce at a staff or board meeting or include in an in-house newsletter)
- Thoughtful, personal token gift
When folks are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, their brains are too preoccupied to work effectively. Certainty provides security people need to avoid a stress response.
How might you provide more clarity and certainly in your work environment, ensuring the approach-response takes over?
TIP: Involve everyone in your planning process so you are better able to manage expectations. Determine desirable goals and outcomes together. Used shared project management tools so that folks are kept in the loop every step of the way. Avoid surprises, which trigger instant threat reactions.
Tip: Outline meeting agendas ahead of time to create certainty. Include estimated times for each agenda item to increase the sense of reward when folks stick to the agenda. Report back to everyone on meeting outcomes to assure clarity and agreement on next steps.
The less sense of control people experience, the more they treat the situation they’re in as a threat. Conversely, when folks perceive they have autonomy, this activates the reward structures of the brain and creates a more stress-free experience.
The best way to create autonomy is to provide guidelines within whose boundaries people can work comfortably, rather than strict rules and regulations where they’ll fear being punished if they deviate.
Full confession: I tend towards micromanagement. And I worked for a lot of bosses who wanted me to micromanage. Nonetheless, if I’d known about all this brain research back when I managed a large staff, I’d like to think I’d have done a better job of creating a sense of autonomy. I for sure know now how super important this is (and I truly apologize to everyone who ever worked with me who found my management style at all threatening).
How might you reduce the perceived threat to autonomy in your management style and trigger people’s approach response?
TIP: Include opportunity for everyone to participate in project planning to instill a sense of control. In meeting settings, avoid hierarchical structures that present a challenge to autonomy. (If you must use micromanagement, use it to instill a sense of order and fairness so collaboration can thrive).
TIP: Offer people choices. Rather than saying “We’re going to do A,” offer your team the option of choosing A or B. If you’re a parent, you’ll recognize this as similar to the tactic of saying “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue one,” in lieu of saying “I want you to get dressed.” The former offers greater autonomy.
TIP: Increase perception of status when people make a decision by offering positive feedback. People feel more autonomous when they know they’re heard, and accepted.
TIP: Offer opportunities to make decisions that increase a sense of reward. This might be as simple as deciding on how many breaks you’ll have during your meeting, or what time of day/day of the week they’ll be held. Or it could be enabling folks to decorate their personal work space, choose their lunch hour, or occasionally work from home.
Human beings are all about relationships, as the old Dale Carnegie manifesto, How to Win Friends and Influence People, makes abundantly clear. The relatedness we feel to others influences our decision making.
In fact, studies show that group activity and a high sense of relatedness influences the production of oxytocin in our brain. Oxytocin plays a critical role in helping us become more relaxed, extroverted, generous, and cooperative in groups. This chemical triggers positive emotions and the feeling of trust, both of which are essential to collaboration.
How might you reward relatedness and create trust within your working groups?
TIP: Put in place strategies to increase social interaction in group settings. This could be establishing regular social times for all staff (e.g., Friday coffee and cookies; monthly birthday get-togethers; bi-annual ‘all-staff’ meetings with bagels; networking outside of the work environment, etc.).
TIP: If you must hold long-distance project meetings, up the relatedness quotient by using video conferences instead of non-video calls. Also include time for sharing personal stories so folks get to know one another better.
TIP: When introducing new people to a work group, spend enough time to create connections through group activities. This could include mentoring or coaching to assure new team members feel welcome and to build a sense of trust within a collaborative team.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I believe something to be unfair I automatically get defensive. This is an avoidance response. No one relates to someone they think is acting unfairly. It’s human nature.
On the contrary, when someone removes unfairness or sees someone act to prevent unfairness, the reward structures of the brain are turned on.
Typical “unfairness” triggers in the workplace include the perception that organizational structures are in place that reward different people (e.g., gender wage gap) or groups (e.g., administrative vs. program staff) differently. Or people may perceive that not everyone on the team puts in the same level of time and effort.
How might you reduce unfairness in your work environment and also increase a sense that fairness prevails?
TIP: Make your processes transparent. Assure they’re written down, and that everyone understands all rules and guidelines.
TIP: Clarify organizational values. Talk about them. Publish them. And assure that you walk the talk – especially with your own staff. It’s sadly all too common in nonprofits to talk about how “humane” and “family friendly” and “compassionate you are; then to treat your employees in an inconsiderate (I’m trying to be polite) manner.
TIP: Enhance group autonomy. Establish rules together in order to remove the perception of unfair benefit to one person or group over another.
TIP: Enhance personal autonomy (see #3 above). People are more apt to perceive themselves as fair than to perceive their boss as fair.
TIP: Tinker with any systems you know are perceived as unfair. This may mean adjustments to salaries, bonuses or benefits.
What’s one thing you’ll do (or already do) to improve your team’s collaboration by reducing perceived threats and instead focusing on rewards? Please share in the COMMENTS below.
This is brilliant! Thanks for creating and sharing! I wondering I’m having as I read this is how do these concepts morph (or not) as an organization grows in size. In other words, might some of these require systems and intentional infrastructure once a group expands beyond a certain number of people? I would love to learn about how multinational, large companies like Google, Apple, etc. manage these challenges across continents and time zones.
Thanks Crissey. I always think it’s good to be intentional about everything. When people know what’s going to happen, they know what to expect. This makes them more comfortable and secure. It’s always a good thing for productivity to begin by alleviating anxiety. 🙂