Tag Archives: Teams

Monday Morning Moment – Them and Us, How Can That Be? Could Them and Us Become a We?

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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).

BLog - Us vs Them - Work Culture - Silos - prolearn academy

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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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.]

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Overcoming Us vs. Them Challenges

Breaking the “Us and Them” Culture

How to Avoid Us vs. Them – Huffington Post

The 10 Buffer Values and How We Act on Them Every Day

The 4 Elements That Make Great Company Culture

How to Save a Broken Work Culture

From Us and Them to We Participative Organizational Culture

Them and us – How to use Trust as a Competitive Advantage

How CEOs Can End an Us Them Mentality

Us vs. Them – a Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming

Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Adaptability – The Very Human Side of These Business Processes

Blog - Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

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I will never forget when an elder statesman in an organization (both dear to me) was “let go”, so to speak, because of a need for more “bang for the buck”. The expression was so toxic then and still carries a deep pain. It speaks to the tension between efficiency and effectiveness, and the pressing need for adaptability as our world rapidly changes. At the same time, we have to remember, in almost all situations, it’s people in the mix of these business processes.

Efficiency is a good thing. However, it must be secondary to effectiveness. Effectiveness is primary always. How best to assure both is to build an organizational culture of adaptability.

Tom Coyne has defined effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability brilliantly in a published 2-page pdf*. Here they are:

“Effectiveness measures the extent to which the results you have achieved match your goals.” Strategy leaders set those goals, and the goals determine who does the work, when, where, and how.

“Efficiency measures the amount of scarce resources used to obtain the results achieved.” His use of the term “scarce resources” is thought-provoking. When we focus on efficiency – getting the most benefit from the least resources – we can lose our objective. Resources are precious. Full-stop. Whether they are people, time, or finances. We must consider how we spend resources always, and especially when they are scarce.  However, if we miss the mark on our objective because we misspent our resources or allocated them unwisely, then we paid for efficiency with effectiveness. A poor transaction.

Gen. McChrystal, speaks to this, in his book Team of Teams (more about this book follows). He puts a captivating twist on it in his challenge: “If I told you that you weren’t going home until we win—what would you do differently?” We can’t focus primarily on efficiency when effectiveness is the outcome we desire. Adaptability is really what will get us to where we want to go.

Adaptability measures the change in Effectiveness and Efficiency for a given level of change in the agent or organization’s environment…One of our great failings as human beings is our reluctance to acknowledge the full implications of living in a world of complex adaptive systems. The causes of yesterday’s success are impossible to fully understand, and unlikely to be replicable to the same extent in the futureWe naturally try to succeed again in the future, using the approach that worked in the past, with frequently disappointing and occasionally fatal results.”

Coyne goes on to write about how to work these processes out toward business and employee/team success in a changing world.

Good stuff to know and implement.

Early on in my career, one of the mantras I heard repeatedly was this:

“The three most important things to learn in your work is flexibility…flexibility…flexibility.”

That later changed, in company vernacular, to “fluidity” x 3. The only problem was the temptation to decide for myself what was fluidity/flexibility and what was not. This is where silos and self-interest evolve when we’re not even aware, until we find ourselves not being successful (effective/efficient). In the very work we’ve immersed ourselves in for years…working hard, but not working as smart as we could have. [I know, that hurts – and it will take more than efficiency gurus to bring us out of such a predicament healthy.]

It is possible to turn the ship around…and it takes a whole crew.

Decentralized, empowered teams. Trust. Transparency and collaboration in decision-making. Broad information-sharing. Ownership in real time not just in philosophy. Bringing down silos and working together to nurture an organizational culture where we expect change and thrive in it.

What focus yields a win-win in our workplace? Both from the human side and the business side of performance and organizational culture. What can we do to enhance our business processes – whether we are in management or on the frontlines of our organization?

The following quotes should help to stir thinking. They are out of the book Team of Teams by retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, currently with The McChrystal Group.

“In complex environments, resilience often spells success, while even the most brilliantly engineered fixed solutions are often insufficient or counterproductive.”  – Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams

“In place of maps, whiteboards began to appear in our headquarters. Soon they were everywhere. Standing around them, markers in hand, we thought out loud, diagramming what we knew, what we suspected, and what we did not know. We covered the bright white surfaces with multicolored words and drawings, erased, and then covered again. We did not draw static geographic features; we drew mutable relationships—the connections between things rather than the things themselves.” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

[Sidebar: I had the great pleasure of writing for such a team over the last 3 years. It was a privilege to see that level of creativity and collaboration, in a team of equals, birthing a workplace initiative in sync with a changing world. Amazing experience.]

“Specifically, we restructured our force from the ground up on principles of extremely transparent information sharing (what we call “shared consciousness”) and decentralized decision-making authority (“empowered execution”).” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

“In a resilience paradigm, managers accept the reality that they will inevitably confront unpredicted threats; rather than erecting strong, specialized defenses, they create systems that aim to roll with the punches, or even benefit from them. Resilient systems are those that can encounter unforeseen threats and, when necessary, put themselves back together again.”  – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

View your leadership as being less about giving top-down orders and more about cultivating those who follow you, empowering them to make the right decisions. Many leaders are tempted to lead like a chess master, striving to control every move, when they should be leading like gardeners, creating and maintaining a viable ecosystem in which the organization operates.This is especially applicable to private sector leaders; the world is moving too quickly for those at the top to master every detail and make every decision. Empowering, cultivating, and ultimately serving those who follow you will unlock massive potential within your organization, allowing you to solve for problems in real time.” – Gen. McChrystal, Forbes.com

*Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability – The Three Keys to Performance Measurement

Effectiveness Before Efficiency

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability by Susan Page

GoodReads Team of Teams Quotes

Stanley McChrystal: What The Army Can Teach You About Leadership

Gen. Stanley McChrystal: Adapt to Win in the 21st Century

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

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Givers, Takers, or Matchers in the Workplace – Which One Are You? – with Adam Grant

Blog - Givers, Takers, Matchers - Adam GrantPhoto Credit: Chuck Scoggins.com

A smart and gifted friend of mine is going through a taxing time on her new job. Long hours, piling up responsibilities, with no end in sight. She lamented that maybe the problem is that she’s a people-pleaser. That expression seems to communicate a character weakness, and I don’t see that operating so much with this friend of mine. What seems more her dilemma is that she’s what Adam Grant calls a “giver”…which is a good thing. The dilemma for my friend and her workplace is to establish a culture where she, and other givers, can thrive.

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has also written this great book – Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. I heard him speak at the Global Leadership Summit and bought his book. His take on the three tops of people who make up our work culture was both fascinating and practical.Blog - Give and Take by Adam Grant - cminds.netPhoto Credit: Amazon.com

Grant sees us all as either givers, takers, or matchers. “It’s very hard to judge our own style. What values you live each day is in the eye of the beholder.” We may not necessarily see ourselves in these categories, but our colleagues will. Ask them, if you have the courage. Then you might consider taking what you learn and thinking through how you might use that information to become a more effective employee and valued colleague.

Takers are those who often manage to do the least amount of work yet gaining the most notice. They manage to get “the lion’s share of credit for collective achievements”, notes Grant. The Takers are the shirkers in the workplace. They are not at their desks because they are off schmoozing (oops, I meant networking, right?) in another department. They somehow get their jobs done partly by leaning on the strong work ethic of the Givers.

Givers are the people who simply enjoy helping others – “no strings attached”. They get to work early and stay late, if necessary. Their core values resonate in the quantity and quality of their work.

Matchers are most of us, really, doing our part in the workplace. Matchers can be counted on to keep things “fair” at work. “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me” is their mantra. They believe in “an eye for an eye” and “just worlds”.  They are the “fairness” or “Karma” police in the workplace.

Grant readily admits that we may operate out of all three styles from time to time, but we each have a dominant style at work.

How do givers, takers, and matchers fare in the workplace? Which of these sinks to the bottom in terms of performance and impact?

Givers are the worst performers (but keep reading). “The ones who get the least work done are the ones who help the others and never get their own jobs done”, reports Grant.  “I love helping others” is not the one on top of the heap of performers. “The lowest revenue accrues to the most generous salespeople.”

It’s sad news that givers sink to the bottom. If you want to boost your organization, have more givers….unfortunately the givers do it at their own expense – unless the organization builds a culture that helps the givers to thrive.

Who rises to the top?

If givers are the worst performers, who are the best performers? You think it’s takers? Takers rise quickly, and fall quickly. They often fall at the hands of the Matchers who can use gossip (or, said another way, workplace channels of influence) to call out the abuse of the Takers. Beware, Takers, of the Matchers in the shadows. Also, other Takers can also take down those more abusive, or less-well-liked Takers.

Are the Matchers the best performers? Not usually. The best results belong to the Givers. Wait! How can they also be the best performers? It’s a both/and situation.

Grant encourages: “Helping others can sink your career but it can also accelerate your careers. Hang in there.”

It takes a while for Givers to learn and build connections, but when they do, it’s a win-win for the organization.

How can we build cultures to help Givers be successful?

3 Things We Can Do:

  1. Keep the wrong people off the bus. – Get the right people on the bus. If possible, keep Takers off the bus. “One Taker on the team and paranoia starts to spread.” Put one Giver on the team, and you don’t necessarily have an explosion of generosity. It’s not bringing in the Givers; it’s weeding out the Takers. Matchers follow the norm. Matchers will follow the example of the Givers.
  2. Redefine Giving.   Wisdom is to know who is who in the workplace. Or at least not be thrown off by behaviors vs. motives. Then we can shape our work culture to empower Givers, influence Matchers, and avoid enabling Takers. In an interview with Adam Grant, Thinkers50 spelled this process out very well. For instance, consider Agreeableness vs. Disagreeableness – in Takers, Givers, and Matchers. We usually think Takers are disagreeable, but not necessarily so. Givers aren’t always agreeable either. Just because someone is nice to you (an agreeable Taker) doesn’t mean they care about you (Givers, in general, really care). Adam Grant also talks about the importance of kindness in the workplace. This is a strength of Givers, but it can also push them to over-work and exhaustion. Grant prescribes “5-minute favors (a microloan of your time, skills, or connections). Volunteering – 100 hours a year – is the sweet spot. Greater than 100 hours a year is too much. 2 hours a week.”
  3. Encourage Help-Seekers – A work culture of Help-Seekers will take silos down. “People step up when others say ‘I’m stuck; I need some help’. If no one asks for help, you have a lot of frustrated Givers in your organization.” Grant recommends an exercise called the Reciprocity Ring – Gathering teams together and having each person state a request of something they want or need and then everyone else in the room tries to use their expertise and networks to make it happen. “People are often unbelievably generous if you ask for help. Givers step up. The Takers become more generous. All the offers of help are visible. Takers don’t want to get outed. The Matchers realize that matching is useful, but it’s an inefficient way to run an organization. If you have given help to others without getting back, then you can increase your productivity because you don’t have to just ask those you’ve helped.”

Givers ask the question “How can I be the rising tide that lifts all boats?” We can move our organizations in this direction of maximum impact and satisfaction, by nurturing a Giver culture.  Instead of workplace paranoia, imagine a culture distinguished by a “Pro-noia” – the “delusion” that other people are plotting your wellbeing.  May it not be a delusion but a daily reality.

Give and Take – An Interview with Adam Grant by Thinkers50

Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant

Outward Focused Lives // Givers, Takers, Matchers

Give and Take – An introduction

YouTube Video – Adam Grant, Professor – Givers, Takers, and Matchers

YouTube Video – Adam Grant’s Give and Take Talk at Google

Global Leadership Summit 2015

The Reciprocity Ring

Live Blog: 2015 Leadership Summit – 30 Leadership Quotes from Adam Grant – Brian Dodd on Leadership

The Global Leadership Summit Session Three – Adam Grant – Notes by Chuck Scoggins