How to give and take your way to business success

Recently, with around 25 HR professionals I had never met, I took part in an exercise called a Ring of Reciprocity at a meeting organised by People Potential. The Ring of Reciprocity is a technique developed by Humax and used by companies such as IBM, Novartis and Citigroup. It was a really encouraging experience. And it was very easy to do.

The idea of giving has traditionally been conceptualized as something that happens between two people: one gives to another. Often, giving takes place in both directions within a pair of people, and this is then called mutual self-help. But recently, the ancient concept of doing a good deed for someone and not expecting anything back in return has been popularised by the notion of ‘paying it forward’. This is the recognition of the fact that kindness breeds kindness and that by doing good, one is laying down the foundations for a more caring social environment in which to live.

According to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, in order to enhance the quality of our lives, we need to be working together as groups, not simply thinking of ourselves as individuals with our own needs and demands. He is a proponent of the Ring of Reciprocity, in which acts of altruism are formally bound together through interactions and connections, rather than being left to bounce randomly through society.

Terry Netto, the facilitator of the meeting I attended, invited us all to push back our chairs and stand together in a circle. We were asked to think of a challenge we were currently facing, either at work or in our personal lives. It was up to us to decide how onerous an issue we wished to share. All we had to do was to write it down on a piece of paper. Then we took twenty minutes to each share what we had written.

I told my fellow ring-makers about a recent technological mishap of grand proportions – when both my laptop and back-up hard disc had broken within a week of each other. Others mentioned difficulties hiring specific expertise into their company. One person asked for ideas about how to support his autistic child. A woman revealed that she had tried everything she could think of to help her depressed dog. A businessman asked for tips on finding an office space that could house young entrepreneurs for free.

At this point, we all left our business cards on our chairs and set about offering whatever nuggets of wisdom we could impart. Some chose to go and speak to others face-to-face. Others left their email address with people who they felt able to help.

Within this structure, the sheer volume of the collective knowledge in a group of people became clear. I found everybody’s willingness to share their advice, contacts and thoughts enlightening.

In the ring of reciprocity, there is no ring-master holding all the expertise. There is no ring-leader linking everyone else in the network. If one of the conversations does not lead to a solution, each person has at least two more people to turn to. There is a distribution of mastery throughout the group which feels very encouraging and non-threatening.

Although I did not get an answer to my problem, I gained from a feeling of solidarity with someone else who had experienced data loss, and the knowledge that such a thing as computer forensics exists. Moreover, it felt really good to hold the key that could unlock someone else’s sticking points.

I was whole-heartedly sold on the experience of the Ring, and convinced by its ability to be a force for change, scaling up the informal give and take exchanges we make and take for granted in our daily lives.

Jody AkedJody has been improving lives with applied behavioural science for over twelve years and helps our clients kick-start positive change from the boardroom to the factory floor. Jody has vast experience consulting with a diverse range of organizations both public and private, and developed the Five Ways to Well-being alongside Nic, which went on to form the foundation of public health advice across the globe.

Share this article on