Cary Cooper: Do team incentives really work?

We live in difficult economic times, with fewer people doing more work and feeling more job insecure.

This prolonged recession means staff are focusing more and more on survival. This type of scenario often leads to people looking after their own career, whether that means protecting their own job or promotion prospects.

It is difficult, in this context, for managers to initiate change, which is vital when times are tough. Change is problematic in good times, but when people’s job security is at stake, it is even worse. Team-building is partly the answer here, getting employees to ‘buy in’ to work toward a common goal, which can benefit all and the organisation, rather than competing internally for promotion or to ‘ring-fence’ their own job.

Team incentives are an important tool to ensure the whole team enjoys the benefits of everybody’s labours.

This can take many forms, but all based on the outcomes of the team. In terms of the achievement of short-term objectives, something like a weekend away for all, or new smartphones or tablets. For longer-term and significant achievements, this might include a shared bonus or share options.

Determining the incentives should also be decided by management and the team concerned together, because different teams are motivated by different incentives. As the old saying goes: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Focusing on team incentives in today’s world is essential.

Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University