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Managers Can Motivate Employees with One Word

Stashed in: Motivation, Words!, Teamwork, Management, Stanford, HBR

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So that, in a nutshell, is the weird thing about teams: They are the greatest (potential) source of connection and belonging in the workplace, and yet teamwork is some of the loneliest work that you’ll ever do.

So what we need is a way to give employees the feeling of working as a team, even when they technically aren’t. And thanks to new research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University, we now know one powerful way to do this: simply saying the word “together.”

In Carr and Walton’s studies, participants first met in small groups, and then separated to work on difficult puzzles on their own. People in thepsychologically together category were told that they would be working on their task “together” even though they would be in separate rooms, and would either write or receive a tip from a team member to help them solve the puzzle later on. In the psychologically alone category, there was no mention of being “together,” and the tip they would write or receive would come from the researchers. All the participants were in fact working alone on the puzzles. The only real difference was the feeling that being told they were working “together” might create.

The effects of this small manipulation were profound: participants in thepsychologically together category worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also said that they felt less tired and depleted by the task. They also reported finding the puzzle more interesting when working together, and persisted longer because of this intrinsic motivation (rather than out of a sense of obligation to the team, which would be an extrinsic motivation).

The word “together” is a powerful social cue to the brain.  In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you toward the same goal.

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