It has been suggested that organisational effectiveness will be enhanced where organisations are able to elicit high levels of commitment from their employees, since committed employees show higher work effectiveness and organisational citizenship behaviour, and lower absence and turnover.
Commitment as defined by the Cambridge dictionary is “the fact of being willing to give your time and energy to something”. Shared commitment refers to when team members are committed to each other, to the organisation and to their goals. It is not just about individual impact, it’s also about how each team member positively impacts the group.
The benefits of commitment are real and measurable. An important study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology convincingly demonstrated that commitment has a more persistent influence on job performance than vice versa.
Commitment can be divided up into three kinds of commitment as illustrated below:
Commitment to each other and each other’s success: Teams that comprised individuals that actively support, believe in and care about the success of each other will be more successful. This type of commitment promotes the comfortable shifting of duties and responsibilities among team members as necessary and allows teams to have less stress and higher productivity.
Commitment to the team and the team’s success: Team pride and commitment is important to ultimate success. The commitment that arises from a team that understands their role and relishes achieving it, is hard to undervalue. Teams with this type of commitment will overcome all odds due to their strength and unity and willingness to band together to get through a tough situation.
Commitment to the organisation and organisational goals: When teams see their work as supporting valuable and important organisational pursuits, this type of commitment is strengthened. This cannot be built without a clear understanding of the company direction and goals, but with those in place, this commitment can grow.
A big part of Intel’s culture is something they call “disagree and commit”. It means that during meetings, team members are free to speak their mind, to agree or disagree. Then at the end of the meeting, everyone commits to the decisions made, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed.
Commitment is important because it fosters what Peter Senge, systems scientist and MIT lecturer, calls “shared vision”. In his book The Fifth Discipline, Senge says that in an organisation, a shared vision changes people’s relationship with the organisation. It is no longer “their organisation” but it becomes “our organisation”.
The opposite of commitment is compliance. An example are rules of the road. Speed limits are in place to ensure safety of all road users. A driver who is truly committed to the official speed limit will not exceed it even if there are no laws in place to enforce it. A driver who is not committed to the official speed limit has to be forced to comply with the threat of fines and penalties should they exceed it. They will comply only grudgingly and might still exceed the speed limit where they think they can get away with it.
Compliance is involuntary and unwilling. It is the opposite of commitment, which is voluntary and willing. Compliance is rule by autocracy. Where compliance is enforced, people have the mindset of “I have to do this” instead of “I want to do this.” They might comply but complain about it. Teams which are ruled solely by compliance can lead to members not giving their best performance, thus impacting the overall success of the team. Creating a shared vision in a team fosters genuine commitment rather than compliance.
Senge describes, what he believes are the seven levels of commitment amongst team members. These can be used in order to gauge at what level of commitment your team members are positioned:
Commitment: Willing to do whatever is required to make it happen, including creating new “laws”.
Enrolment: Will do what can be done within the “spirit of the law”.
Genuine compliance: Does what is expected and more following the “letter of the law”.
Formal compliance: Does what is expected and no more.
Grudging compliance: Does enough of what is expected but is not willing and complains about it.
Noncompliance: Will not do what is expected.
Apathy: No interest whatsoever. Cannot be bothered.
Senge, P. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation (2nd Ed.). New York: Random House.
Winkler, S., König, C.J., & Kleinmann, M. (2012). New insights into an old debate: Investigating the temporal sequence of commitment and performance at the business unit level. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 85(3), 503-522.
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