There’s a nice psychological quirk called the pygmalion effect. It was first coined by Harvard researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen, who observed that students performed better when their teachers believed they had the potential to be great. Their famous experiment saw pupils selected at random and labelled as bloomers, ie children with strong potential. Lo and behold, those students then went on to significantly out perform their classmates. What’s interesting is that the effect continued, even after the student was no longer taught by the teacher who believed they had potential.
So how can this impact upon the workplace? Well a study led by Robert Wood provides a nice illustration. The researchers took a group of participants and divided them into teams of three. The teams were then further divided into two groups based upon a particular mindset that they were primed to take.
One group of teams were primed to believe that we tend to have a fixed amount of management ability, and there isn’t really much that can be done to change that. The other group however were primed to believe that our management ability was something that could be improved with practice and hard work.
All of the teams had a bedding in period where they grew familiar with one another, after which they were given a complex task to complete that involved managing a furniture company that had hit upon hard times. The task involved standard management things such as motivating employees and ensuring they were productive.
Each team had to work collaboratively to try and ensure the best outcome on the task. As the task progressed, one group clearly began to move clear of the other in terms of performance, and this group pulled further clear the longer the task went on.
The teams that scored best were all primed to think that they could improve their abilities with hard work and practice. This mindset encouraged members of those teams to engage in frank and honest discussions about both the task and the executive decisions made by the team. The key aspect was that everyone in the team was part of the same learning journey.
It’s a nice reflection of how powerful our mindset and philosophy can be in promoting the kind of culture we all want to see in our social businesses.