Shankar Vedantam explores the widely accepted belief that extrinsic rewards can get people to do things. Research studies, Vedantam shows, points the other way around — external rewards kills the inner drive.
“External rewards and punishments are counterproductive when it comes to activities that are meaningful — tasks that telegraph something about a person’s intellectual abilities, generosity, courage or values. People will voluntarily perform intellectually arduous work, for example, because it gives them pleasure to solve a puzzle or win a game of wits.”
For this to work, there needs to be a way for the telegraphing to get disbursed throughout the community and allow others to know about the intellectual abilities, etc.
If this is not done, most people will feel like schmucks, taking on arduous work with no real group compensation. The reward does not have to be much. Intellipedia just used a small spade.
In fact, it works better when the reward is something small, almost frivolous, when the reward is for the work done, not when the work is done for the reward.
There is a great story (it may be from HP) whose details I can not recall. Essentially, an engineer walked into the boss’s office and let him know that a big project was complete. To show his pleasure, the boss picked up some incidental object in the office (like a hammer) and gave the engineer the first Golden Hammer award.
The group passed the award around whenever someone did something outstanding. The rewards have to help strengthen the connections, not break them.