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Recently, I was in an odd conversation with a friend from work. The more we talked, the more we sounded like a Dr. Seuss book. It went something like this:
“I don’t know how to be us with them. To be with them is to just be them. We must lose us; us no more will be. There’s no us in them; it’s so strange to me. How can they be them, with no us, you see? To give up us is too hard for me. So I can’t see a way to get to we.”
[Seriously, the conversation went like that…but better.]
Battling the us-them assignation is an ongoing workplace discipline. Even in the happiest, coolest companies, there is still an intentionality to keep work life positive for every employee. That inclusiveness is a hallmark for high morale and low walls (read: no silos).
Photo Credit: Prolearn-Academy
In a work culture where silos still exist, an us/them mentality can grow as each team or department draws in on itself and ignores or suspects the actions/values of others. It’s not a healthy situation for any of us…whether it’s the executive team insulated from others or the [fill in the blank] team hunkered down in its own mode of trying to survive. The first can be as unaware as the subject of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes“, the second, well, is just miserable, and growing more so by the pay period.
So much has been written on this problem in the workplace – about that culture where us/them thinking and operations color productivity and morale. I have included several links below describing various recommendations and protocols to restore health to such organizations.
Photo Credit: My Turnstone
I’ve always been that person who says, “Why can’t we just all get along?” In reality, we don’t have that situation always, but we can grease the tracks in that direction. Here are my own workplace rules regarding moving us and them to we:
- Make a practice of assuming the best of your bosses and colleagues. “Refuse to think ill of others” is my goal…and my accuracy in hitting that goal comes with practice and determination…and grace.
- Lean in to those with whom you struggle the most – the “thems” in your worklife. Especially the most powerful ones. Study them. Learn their language. Know them as well as you can. NOT for self-serving reasons, but for the benefit of the work itself. Any motive that only serves your personal situation will only make matters worse… ‘Nuff said.
- Refuse to get caught up in us/them complaining. Don’t make a big deal about it, but do your best to turn the conversation toward a positive end, change the subject altogether, or bow out if all else fails. Those negative conversations just bring you and your colleagues down and don’t accomplish anything. A short-lived “misery loves company” satisfaction isn’t worth the fall-out of such conversations.
- Bring down the silos, one brick at a time, if necessary. Maybe you aren’t experiencing any us/them anguish, but you know it exists. What can you do, individually and as a work team, to move to “we”? We have lots of work models out there for this. In fact, silos in the workplace are “so 80’s” (whatever that means…I hear it a lot, so I’m using it here). Use some of that meeting time, or talks over coffee, to be creative in how you can work better across teams…how you can learn more from each other…how you can defuse territoriality? If the “them” is management, you initiate dialog on setting work culture values that maximizes product excellence and employee engagement.
- Put processes in place – through your culture – to keep silos down. I would love to hear what your situation is and how you are making positive steps to grow/keep a healthy culture. Please comment below.
Sure…there are times we need to process a difficult situation at work with a trusted friend. Yes, us/them scenarios are painful…and wrong, honestly…especially in the workplace where we are meant to have shared goals, working toward the same outcomes. Maybe, the us/them relationships in a company are too distracting and we can’t see any solution (back to the Dr. Seuss-like conversation above). In that case, it’s possible we look outside our company for another situation. However, you take with you a piece of the us/them dilemma. You take you along to the next job. Better to develop muscle memory on how to “be we”, whenever possible, right where we are.
[Sidebar: I’ve written a lot about work culture – too many to mention – but you can search work culture under Blog – Deb Mills and learn as I have about what is possible if we stay engaged in our workplace.]
Photo Credit: Buffer