Face it, we work eight-to-10 hours a day and generally work with other people at some point. Whether we call it collaboration, teamwork, cooperation, compassion, or by another term, it is important for coworkers to have positive interaction with one another in order to increase productivity and worker satisfaction, and to reduce employee stress.  As author and coach John Maxwell titled his leadership book, “teamwork makes the dream work” because according to Maxwell, “a team makes you better than you are and allows you to help others do their best.” In an office, teamwork enables us to leverage the skills and experience of each individual on the team to achieve success. The key is that everyone works together and is willing to help one another.

Why Do We Help Others?

While leaders should encourage cooperation, people offer support to their coworkers for various reasons, some more altruistic than others. People who help a coworker who has asked for help, receive more appreciation and feel better about their interaction. Others who offer unsolicited assistance may face resistance and the recipient may feel that the helper is stepping into their space. It is preferable to ask, “how can I help you,” or to help the person to come up with a solution to a problem than to jump in and take over for the person initially responsible for the task.  If you are the person’s boss and you jump in to help too soon, the person may feel micromanaged or that the boss does not trust the person to complete the task or to make the right decision.

A person may decide to help another person in an effort to portray oneself as helpful, although the true motives here are self-serving. A better approach is to help others as a way to contribute to the success of the overall team or organization rather than only helping when it makes us look good. When we work together, everyone should feel more connected to one another and to the organization.

What Constitutes Helping?

Helping a coworker does not mean doing their work for them, and this practice can actually build resentment. Helping is an offshoot of team spirit and the idea that we are all working together to achieve a goal and we are all “in it together.” Helping begins on a new hire’s first day when we introduce the person to everyone and to the office (e.g. how to use the coffee maker). It means teaching fellow team members how to do something new such as sharing the discovery of a new app. It means it’s all hands on deck when there is a presentation later in the day and the copier that collates died and we have to do it manually. Most of all, helping means lending a hand or ear when the person needs it the most.

Creating an Environment of Cooperation

As leaders, we have the responsibility to create a culture in which helping one another is a core value. There is nothing wrong with friendly competition as in who can close the most targets this month, but if the culture is one of “eat or be eaten,” or “every person for themselves,” this situation can build unhealthy competition and in a worst-case scenario, a backstabbing, toxic environment. Let’s focus on the positive instead. Managers need to provide teams with a workspace that encourages cooperation. A remote workforce can still be a unified one through phone, email, Slack, and communication among all members and management needs to make sure all staff, regardless of location, feel involved and appreciated.

There is an expression “disposition, not position,” which refers to the fact that we each have our skill sets and interests.  For example, a strong writer can help team members to figure out how to phrase something. If one person is great with graphics, then she can create a graphic for another team member quickly, rather than having one person struggle and waste time trying to do it on his own.

When employees feel involved, understood, and personally helped by their coworkers, their stress levels fall and job satisfaction improves, which leads to greater productivity and retention. People who help others are better liked and have more positive interaction with other employees, improving their satisfaction and longevity with the organization. Sounds like a win-win.