• Using SharePoint to Short-Circuit the Bystander Effect

    The Bystander Effect in Business

    The unconscious mind is a fascinating thing, and while it's needed for healthy functioning, it also comes with risks. The business environment makes workers prone to several well-known biases and unconsciously selected behaviors, including the infamous "bystander effect." This article examines the bystander effect in the workplace and shows how you can manage effectively and take advantage of SharePoint features to prevent the bystander effect from damaging your business.

    What is the bystander effect?

    The most famous instances of the bystander effect revolve around violent crime. In these cases, brutally violent acts were committed in front of a large crowd, but no one in that crowd intervened—or even called the police. The most famous of these examples is the Belle Isle Bridge, where dozens of onlookers did nothing to intervene as a woman was beaten to death.

    Why did this happen? The larger the group of people who are present to witness an act, the more each individual assumes that someone else has already done something to help, that someone else is better equipped to help, or that there is a good reason—that the individual is not aware of—for not intervening. After all, if there are dozens of other people behaving in a specific way, it is easy to unconsciously assume that this behavior is correct.

    Hopefully violent crime is never something your workplace or its denizens have to worry about—but there are lesser forms of the bystander effect that influence your team. One workplace experiment took place in an elevator. Actors were hired to drop pencils or coins in an elevator after the door had closed. The goal was to see how many people responded, how quickly, and what factors seemed to play into the likelihood that they would help.

    When only one person was present in the elevator besides the actor, it was 40% likely that they would help pick up the dropped objects. As more people were present in the elevator, however, it was less likely that anyone would help. With seven people in the elevator, there was only a 14% likelihood that anyone would help the clumsy stranger.

    Large Group Work and Avoiding Bystanders

    With large groups and task teams, it's easy to fall prey to the bystander effect without even realizing it. When something goes wrong or a client is concerned, there's a general sense that it's probably someone else's responsibility—or problem.

    How can you avoid this? The first and most important thing to do is ensure that each employee has specifically designated domains. This will give them a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility in facing tasks. Further, by using SharePoint's social features to list the responsibilities of various team members, you are both validating the individual's role and making it clear who other team members can talk to about the type of issue in question.

    SharePoint's communication systems are excellent for many purposes, but be sure that you avoid triggering the bystander effect with large-group missives. When you send group messages, make sure each individual knows how they are expected to respond and who they are to report to.

    Making use of SharePoint document and page creation tools will help even further, as it helps individual employees feel empowered to help create the learning resources for your company. As knowledge, expertise, and low-level authority spread out in your company, the likelihood of rapid and effective response also increases.

    And last, be aware that the bystander effect is broken as soon as one individual is seen breaking through the inaction. When individuals act in ways you want all employees to act, use SharePoint's communication tools to draw attention to that behavior—not just to reward the employee in question but to help establish a "new normal" for the rest of your workforce.

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