In Collaboration

by Michael Alexander, Director of the Professional MBA Program and Lecturer at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University

I’ve been leading students through the Reciprocity Ring for years. I have deep ties with its co-creators, Cheryl Baker and Wayne Baker.I’ve always loved the way it energizes and connects our students to one another.

How the Reciprocity Ring Works

Reciprocity RingThe Reciprocity Ring is an activity designed to teach “pay-it-forward” principles to a group while developing and reinforcing high-quality connections. 

Students get together in a room (or faculty, staff, employees, members, or any other group of people) to ask for help and offer help. 

After a short presentation about the personal and professional benefits of asking for help and being a giver (based on Wayne’s research and on that of Adam Grant), each student makes a request for help. 

The other students then take turns making offers. 

The way it works in person is that a participant places a sticky note with their request up on the wall, and other participants walk around and add their own offer note whenever they see something relevant to them. 

It sounds simple, but it’s an incredibly powerful experience for participants, and many say it is among the most meaningful professional exercises they’ve ever done. 

The request can be:

  • Something as simple as needing help with a particular class or subject
  • Practical, like needing a recommendation for a vendor or an introduction into a potential employer
  • Whimsical, like one person’s desire to learn to hunt “big game” or another’s wish to learn Italian cooking
  • Meaningful, like one participant’s need for a specialist for a rare brain disorder in a family member

These are all real examples of requests that have been made in various Reciprocity Rings.

Read more about the Reciprocity Ring in Psychology Today.

The Benefits of the Reciprocity Ring 

I’m working primarily with Professional MBA students. These are all working adults with jobs, lives, and families. They’re being pulled in a lot of directions, and they have high expectations of our program. Any exercise that requires their time and attention has to be worth their while.

The magic is that by creating a place where it’s safe (even expected) to ask for help, participants get to see how much untapped help is available in their network. You never know what you’re going to get until you ask, and you never know where the best help will come from. 

Participants also get to experience the “giver’s high” of being a helper. Research has shown that givers are often more successful at work, happier in life, and even healthier. 

Everyone participating gets a chance to be both a giver and a helper. In the process, they develop quicker and deeper connections with each other, build affiliation with and loyalty to our Professional MBA Program, and actually solve real problems that save them time and money. 

If it’s not obvious, I’m a big fan of the Reciprocity Ring. 

Then COVID hit and everything went remote. The Give and Take team contacted me and said they’d developed a way to do a “virtual” Reciprocity Ring. I’ll admit that I wasn’t so sure it would work!

Going Virtual 

At first, I had a hard time wrapping my head around how the Reciprocity Ring would work without being in a room together and posting sticky notes on the wall. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how people forge  strong connections and develop new networks. 

I’ve been doing it the in-person way for so many years, it was hard to imagine that we’d still get the magic without the face-to-face interaction. 

But, within the first 10-15 minutes of training, where the Reciprocity Ring team  SHOWED us how it would work virtually, we got it. We knew our students would have a powerful experience. 

So many of the same lessons from the in-person experience translate to the virtual version. 

Even better, the virtual Reciprocity Ring has additional features built into the platform that make it even easier and more efficient for the participants to exchange help than it is in person. 

We intentionally placed the Virtual Reciprocity Ring experience within a whole day of culture building, psychological safety creating, and introspecting.  In fact, we started the day with the Virtual Reciprocity Ring. This choice provided a foundation for an inclusive, open, helpful day.  

virtual rciprocity ring

What People Get Out of a Virtual Reciprocity Ring

What’s most important to me is that the participants had as good an experience with the virtual exercise as they did with the in-person version.  Some of the benefits of both the in-person and virtual versions of the Reciprocity Ring include: 

  • People were empowered by asking for help.
  • Participants enjoyed giving help.
  • They made numerous individual connections with each other.
  • They felt included in the larger group.
  • We cemented the culture of the larger group.
  • Doing the exeercise together at a group amplified all these benefits.  

One participant said, “It was a great opportunity to reveal my inner concerns about being a member of this cohort.  I found out that I do fit here better than I had assumed.” 

Another participant said it was a “really powerful exercise in networking potential.”

In short, the Virtual Reciprocity Ring was a huge success, and I’m looking forward to continuing to use the tool! 

I will be happy when our classes are back in a face-to-face environment. However, the VRR staff has already assured me that we can continue to use the online platform even when we have all of our students back in the same room!

About the Author

Michael Alexander is the Director of the Professional MBA Program and Lecturer at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and oversees the Mays’ CityCentre facility in Houston.

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