Prosocial Core Design Principles Towards cooperative conversations

Jun 13, 2023

Towards cooperative conversations and actions to achieve shared goals

“Those two have very different personalities. They just don’t work well together.”

I’m sure you’ve heard something like that many times in the past because most of us believe a small percentage of people are built in such a way that they will never be able to work cooperatively.

It’s not true!

Some of us have to work harder to cooperate with particular personalities, sure, but with the right tools, there’s no reason why people with different backgrounds, values and lived experiences can’t work together. The Prosocial Core Design Principles is one such tool.

The CDPs are a set of eight statements that will help you ‘build and release’ high-functioning and efficient teams without stressing or burning out the people in those teams. Using the CDPs is a great way to increase the efficiency of your organisation and support worker mental health. Here’s a basic primer on the CDPs:

1. Shared identity and purpose.


If you want a group to be as productive and efficient as possible in the short and long term, all its members must clearly understand the purpose of the group and believe that purpose is worthwhile. Individuals also form more cohesive groups when they have a strong group identity — when members are proud to belong to the group and enjoy spending time with the other members of that group.

2. Equitable distribution of contributions and benefits.


Most people get upset when they believe one or more group members receive benefits that are disproportionate to the contributions those group members made. This doesn’t mean every group member must contribute the same amount and then receive an equal benefit. It’s about equity rather than equality. Every group member must contribute an equitable amount to the group and then receive a benefit that’s commensurate with that contribution.

3. Fair and inclusive decision-making.

Decision-making is more robust when all group members are involved in making decisions that affect them. This also motivates group members to do their best. This is especially important when it comes to making decisions about how the group runs. Fair and inclusive decision-making could mean allowing the group to reach a consensus, but that’s not the only method available. Consultation with a designated leader/representative, voting and even veto powers may be appropriate (and often more efficient).

4. Transparency. 


When no one is monitoring group members to ensure they display behaviours agreed upon by the group, many people are more likely to revert to self-serving behaviours. Thankfully, it’s easy to ensure the activities of each group member are transparent. For example, regular check-ins or meetings are popular and usually effective. Whatever method group members choose, research shows monitoring is typically most effective when it’s done as part of the normal interactions between members of the group.

5. Consequences.


Punishment produces a wide variety of negative impacts. So, rather than devising punishments for undesirable behaviours, effective and efficient groups use consequences to respond to helpful and unhelpful behaviours. The range of ‘negative’ consequences starts with compassionate conversations to find out what happened and determine whether involved parties need support to display the desired behaviours (e.g. training), and goes right through to sanctions (e.g. not allowing someone to participate in a fun activity until they’ve completed overdue work) and exclusion from the group.

And on the flip side, ‘positive’ consequences are also important. Delivering positive consequences as a result of group members displaying desirable behaviours increases enjoyment and the sense of belonging to a group. It’s also an effective method of communicating the best way to do a task. Positive consequences could be anything from expressions of gratitude to getting to finish work early.

Research shows a combination of positive and negative consequences used in the correct situations increases trust. The key is to ensure consequences are fair and a natural extension of the action that lead to the consequence. Otherwise, the consequence is actually a punishment or reward, both of which are far less effective if you want to encourage team members to be prosocial consistently (rather than being prosocial only when there’s something in it for them).

6. Fast and fair conflict resolution.


You might think that groups made of people acting in a prosocial way wouldn’t come into conflict. But in reality, when groups comprise diverse individuals committed to acting in accordance with their values to achieve group goals, conflict becomes inevitable because they all have different information and views to bring to the table. As such, it’s best to equip groups with strong conflict resolution skills and flexible conflict resolution processes, so they can move through conflict and use it to do more robust work.

7. Authority to self-govern.


Groups need to work toward broader organisational goals and adhere to broader organisational values. But within that framework, they need the freedom to accomplish their designated group goals in the way that works best for the members of the group. After all, they’re the experts (if they weren’t they wouldn’t be in the group). Groups are more efficient and effective when allowed to implement principles 1-6 without excessive or unnecessary interference.

8. Collaborative relations with other groups.


Just as individuals produce better outcomes when they collaborate and cooperate with other individuals, so too are groups more efficient and effective when they collaborate and cooperate with other groups. As such, principles 1-7 need to apply not just to individual groups and to all the people who are part of those groups, but also to the entire organisation and all the groups operating within that organisation. For example:

  • If you want your organisation to be as productive and efficient as possible in the short and long term, all the groups within your organisation must clearly understand the organisation’s purpose and believe that purpose is worthwhile
  • All groups within your organisation need to receive an equitable share of benefits commensurate with the contributions they make
  • Checkins and meetings with all groups working toward a shared goal will help ensure all groups contribute rather than reverting to self-serving behaviours


AUTHOR Michelle Trudgen, Clinical Director, ACT Curious.

CONTACT US  📞    0438 922 979 (Australia Wide)  email: hello@actcurious.com

DISCLAIMER The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

COPYRIGHT © ACT Curious Pty Ltd, 2023.

Most Popular

Latest News