The World of Work Project

Improving SCARF factors in your team

David Rock’s SCARF model says that five factors affect how it feels to be in a team: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. It’s possible to improve these factors in your team through focus and effort.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Improving SCARF factors in your team

The SCARF model identifies five key social factors as having the potential to make individuals feel emotionally threatened in work: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. When this happens and individuals feel threatened, they become less cohesive, collaborative, effective and happy. It follows that changing your team or organization’s culture to address risks associated with these factors will help make it a better, more productive place to work.

Leadership is so much more than telling people what to do.

Leaders can improve SCARF factors

Leaders and managers are hugely influential in shaping their teams’ cultures. Their actions and in-actions define acceptable ways of working and behaviors in their teams, and they have an obligation and a strong interest in creating good cultures. Some things they can consider in relation to the SCARF model follow:

Improving status:

Some simple things you can do to improve someone’s sense of status include:  thanking them, showing that you care, celebrating their successes, giving praise, promoting them to others, asking them to do important work or sharing information with them.

Improving certainty:

Some simple things you can do to improve someone’s sense of certainty include: being transparent and honest, sharing plans and sticking to them, being consistent, remembering what you’ve said, following routines and having a clear strategy and objectives.

People are not robots to be programmed… they need some autonomy to be happy and feel safe.

Improving autonomy:

Some simple things you can do to improve someone’s sense of autonomy include: delegating as much as possible, empowering people, letting people learn from their mistakes, sharing your decision making process with people and being transparent with them.

Improving relatedness:

Some simple things you can do to improve someone’s sense of relatedness include: creating rapport, building relationships, adopting a coaching style, actively listening to people, mentoring, being personable and helping people get to know you.

Improving fairness:

Some simple things you can do to improve someone’s sense of fairness include: being transparent, having clear rules and following them, treating people equally, explaining unusual decisions and sharing recognition and attention (while focusing on merit).

Individuals can also improve SCARF factors

While leaders and managers have a large role to play, individuals are also able to influence their own SCARF factors. They’re also able to help those around them have better lives in this respect as well, though we don’t really cover those points here.

That’s right, you can help make things better for yourself and those around you!

Improving status:

Some simple things you can do to improve your own sense of status include:  celebrating your own successes, thanking others who may reciprocate, volunteering for interesting tasks, offering to support others with their tasks and focusing on your own strengths.

Improving certainty:

Some simple things you can do to improve your own sense of certainty include: asking others for clarity, maintaining your calendar, speaking to others about the need for clarity, introducing routines and agreeing schedules and ways of working with your manager.

Improving autonomy:

Improving your own autonomy is not as easy as improving other domains. Things you can do include building trust with others, speaking to your manager about your desire for autonomy, learning about empowerment and behaving in an empowered way.

Improving relatedness:

Some simple things you can do to improve your own sense of relatedness include: building relationships, helping others around you, helping people get to know you, being kind to people, listening to people and being personable.

Improving fairness:

Improving fairness may be harder to do as an individual than improving some of the other domains. Things that you can do include speaking about fairness, role-modeling fairness and championing transparency where possible.

The world isn’t fair, and that’s distressing for many people.

The World of Work Project View

How it feels to be at work is so, so important. Individuals spend a huge proportion of their lives working and to have that experience be a bad one is heartbreaking.

Everyone has some influence over how it feels to be at work and should invest time and effort in making the experience better for themselves, and for those around them. Remember, this also leads to better outcomes for businesses.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The core concepts for this post are based on work created by David Rock and published in his 2008 paper: “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others”. You can read more about David Rock and his work at his website, or read specifically about this paper here.

The guidance in relation to improving SCARF factors is based on our own experience in the world of work and there are no specific references for it.

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