• Sibel Dağdeviren Özüağ

Team Culture: Crab Bucket or Archimedes' Buoyancy?

You may be baffled at the title you have just read - it sounds complex "for now", I know. Please bear with me and I promise you will see the connection very soon :)

I was amazed when I read an article about how a single crab could easily get out of the bucket that the crab hunters throw it in and on the other hand, how impossible it is for the same crab to get out of the bucket when there are also other crabs in there. How could this happen? Well, it is because once there are two or more crabs, the others literally pull you back in the bucket again - no matter how hard you try to get out!

Is it just not the opposite of the well-known team work cliché in the business world, where it goes "Team work makes the dream work"?

Here it is the opposite. The team is against you. The team hinders you to do something that you are actually capable of. Somehow, however, you all happen to die - or have a bad performance, so to say in a business context.

This little piece of information hit me: In numerous mentorship conversations, my mentees have mentioned their team being against them. It is not happening only with the crabs, the team-against-individual is also happening in the lives of probably the most intelligence beings on the planet.

Crab bucket mentality damages performance in organizations since humans behave in a similar manner as the crabs do - particularly within social teams. And I have even come across a study conducted in New Zealand in 2015, demonstrating up to an 18% average exam result improvement for students when their grades were reported in a way that prevented others from knowing their position in published rankings.


Thinking about it for some days, I wondered what the opposite could be. And I have found the answer in "Eureka!" (I really love bringing diverse disciplines together!)

Archimedes' principle of buoyancy is based on his discovery when he saw the water in his bathtub rise as he got in. Archimedes' principle, therefore, says that a body/object in a fluid is acted on by an upward force equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces.

OK, let's translate that into daily life and align it to the purpose of this article: Water moves objects up, with an equal weight of what you add to it.

Here is how these two pieces of information could be blended into team culture:

Do you work among crabs or amid safe water?
Are you a crab bucket to your team members or encouraging water, instead?
How do you treat the good performers in the team?

My experience in HR so far has shown me very clearly that the impact of a positive, supportive, and friendly team culture should never be taken for granted and that the team culture deserves investment. The current remote work context underlines this even more.