Does Money Make You Collaborate?

I once had a client whose leadership constantly talked about teamwork. They wanted professionals from disparate areas of the organization to work together in unison in the service of their customer base. They even installed monetary incentives for better “Teaming.” But, the same leadership group got along very poorly. They were rarely seen together. In fact, it had become something of a joke within the organization. The executive team didn’t even spend much of their time visiting with key accounts. The result: Collaboration was terrible. Have you seen this happen at an organization where you worked or which you advised?


Most of my clients would like to see more collaboration, internally, to develop and manage their client relationships. They wish that people from different product or practice areas would work better together to maximize each relationship. They are frustrated by that part of human nature that can drive people to take care of themselves first and everyone else later.

A major bank, for example, may have a dozen or more major product groups that would all like to do business with the same set of large corporate clients. And, they are spread out in major financial centers around the world. How do you engender the desired teamwork?

Unfortunately, the most often-discussed idea—incentivizing collaboration—doesn’t really work. Here’s why you can’t simply pay people to become true team players:

1. Research findings: While highly individualistic compensation can ruin teamwork, there appears to be a somewhat weak link the other way around—that paying for teamwork will create the desired behavior. Why? See number 2.

2. People collaborate for reasons other than money. For example—they collaborate because:

  • It is an expected cultural norm. It’s just “how we do things around here—we help each other out.” There is a “we” rather than “I” culture.
  • They know and trust (and ideally, like) the people they are being asked to collaborate with.
  • They feel committed to a common mission and shared set of goals.

It’s important to share in the financial success of deals or transactions that different players contribute towards, but it’s not the main thing that will create a true culture of collaboration.

How do you foster more collaboration? It starts at the top. Specifically, there are three things an organization can do:

1. Inculcation. Leadership must role-model the collaboration you seek. Inculcation refers to a set of activities that allow you to set an example for others and impart collaborative values. To inculcate means “to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.” There are key moments in the life of your organization when you have the chance to role model, reinforce, and even directly teach the values and beliefs that underpin collaborative behavior and teamwork.

2. Institutionalization. This refers to the development of management systems and processes that support collaboration. These include things like recruiting the right people, giving them the right roles and responsibilities, creating balanced measurement and rewards, and ensuring the formal organization structure supports collaboration.

3. Infrastructure. This comprises collaboration technologies, knowledge management systems, and even office space—the hard-wired elements of a firm that are increasingly helpful in enabling collaboration.

If you want more collaboration to serve clients, think about how to role model it, support it with the right tools and processes, and enable it through technology and physical space.

How collaborative is your own organization? What makes you collaborate? Leave a comment, below.

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