The Transactive Culture of High Performing Teams

By Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP

We are fundamentally wired to connect. Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence, describes how the amygdala (an almond-shaped structure deep within the recesses of the most primitive part of our brains) acts as a social radar. It calls ‘attention to whatever might be new, puzzling, or important to learn more about’, specifically ‘in its social role, as part of the brain’s system for emotional contagion’.

He illustrates how the amygdala ‘catches’ or picks up on others’ emotions and sends this information to parts of the brain where they are mimicked and translated back in a like manner. Remember that sad scene from the last movie you watched? You likely felt a little emotional because of the neural mimicry between yourself and the actor.

It’s clear that the ways in which we associate with one another has a meaningful effect on our thoughts, feelings and actions.

An example of this effect is evident through transactive memory systems, a concept coined by Daniel Wegner and colleagues. Essentially, in a transactive memory system, we connect with and use each other as stores for certain domains of knowledge. Each person in a given network becomes an expert on some domain and is relied upon by the others for future information on that subject.

I’ll use myself as an example. In my network, I use my dad as a knowledge store for anything related to cars. Rather than try to learn and practice all the different sorts of expertise needed to maintain my vehicle, I rely on my dad as a source of information when I need answers. He’s essentially a living, breathing car encyclopedia to which I am closely connected.

Organizations already use this approach with their use of specialists. Need help figuring out your use of social media in a work context? You’ll likely rely upon your Communications Specialist for this information. How about help with deciding how to promote your brand? Chances are the Marketing Specialist has your answers. Diverse information is efficiently coordinated among individuals through transactive memory systems in organizations.

Your transactive memory stores have several beneficial effects on organizational culture and, ultimately, performance. First, being appreciated for your knowledge and talents helps to build your own identity and reinforces your self-confidence, resulting in a drive to maintain and grow as a specialist in your domain. Similarly, by approaching others as experts, you illustrate their usefulness and give them purpose. Both of these effects help to build a positive work environment, full of positive social interactions – key ingredients to building trust, cohesiveness and high performance.

Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP, is a rewards coordinator with Best Buy Canada. Nilesh graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, First Class Honours. He majored in Human Resources Management and tacked on an extended minor in Psychology. He’s a self-confessed nerd (the first step is admitting), likes to read, loves hockey and is struggling with the complexities of learning the game of golf.


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