OUR ANCESTORS faced many challenges – disease, predators, and sustenance, for example – that forced them to adapt and change their behaviors just to survive. The result of these circumstances over a hundred thousand years of evolution is a species that is hard-wired to thrive in a communal setting. A human being who, on a neurological level, needs to belong.

It conflicts, though, that the most commonly understood theory of evolution – survival of the fittest – paints a seemingly different picture of how our ancestors adapted to create the current species of human. In short, survival of the fittest actually favors those who exhibit individualistic behaviors, since everyone is in direct competition with each other for survival.

So how is it that humans today tend to default to cooperative behavior and thrive in a communal setting, when it appears that our ancestors evolved to do the exact opposite?

Many animals act cooperatively in nature, most notably ants and bees, who build complex structures and have specific roles and responsibilities that all contribute to the common good of the group. However, humans are unique because we not only act cooperatively, but we are intelligent enough to recognize that cooperation is beneficial and can therefore reward those who do it well (and often punish those who don’t).

Because of this ability, humans now cooperate at an even higher level than that of our ancestors, what we refer to as“SuperCooperators.”

We see these behaviors play out in human experiments, where volunteers (usually undergraduate students) participate in various games that ultimately demonstrate how it is human nature to cooperate with others, even when the others are complete strangers. Games such as the prisoner’s dilemma, ultimatum game, and dictator game confirm these results, despite a participant’s potentially higher “payoff” from acting selfishly. Individuals will usually choose to act in a way that is mutually beneficial for all participants.”

Using this understanding of how and why we have evolved with the capability of being a SuperCooperator, what are the benefits of having these individuals on your team at work?

FASTER PROBLEM-SOLVING

SuperCooperators are driven to find solutions in amenable ways. They are motivated to work with others knowing that everyone is after the same end-goal. Even if individuals have different ideas of getting there, SuperCooperators are more willing to explore different routes and put ego aside to do what’s best for the team.

GREATER DISCRETIONARY EFFORT

SuperCooperators are operating out of a mindset of desired team success. This intrinsic motivation automatically drives up discretionary effort – the amount of effort employees want to give rather than what they feel obligated to give just to get by. These are the types of “A players” that attract other top talent – the willing attitude is contagious.

LOAD SHARING

An environment of trust and safety with SuperCooperators enables load sharing. Load sharing is an effect where each person’s individual workload literally feels lighter because their colleague’s resources become their own when solving complex problems and accomplishing difficult tasks. Load sharing leads to:

  • Enhanced creativity
  • More frequent collaboration
  • Increased morale
  • Resiliency – using team support in difficult situations
  • A culture of accountability – holding each other accountable to expectations of the team and organization

If you notice SuperCooperators on your team, be sure to recognize them and highlight the positive impact they have on your organization. Recognition and celebration is the best way to nurture high-performers and help redirect others to serve in similar ways. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole team of SuperCooperators, ready to take your organization to the next level.

Content for this blog post was adapted from “Statistical Physics of Human Cooperation by Perc, Matjaz, Jillian J. Jordan, David G. Rand, Zhen Wang, Stefano Boccaletti, and Attila Szolnoki. “Statistical Physics of Human Cooperation.” Physics Reports (2017): n. pag. ArXiv. Web. 19 May 2017. <https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.07161v1>.