Results-oriented leaders get understandably frustrated with anything that slows  progress on their strategic objectives. Particularly pernicious – albeit common – are time-wasting games of the ‘them-and-us’ variety. Have a look at the following footage (you may need to paste it into your browser quickly (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O15DXv3Vwg), but I think you will be amused and informed if you do so).

As funny as this sequence is, it also shows quite clearly how an organism, or indeed organization, can be so unconscious of aspects of its behaviour that it becomes its own worst enemy, responds aggressively to that ‘enemy’ and just ends up hurting and frustrating itself.  Organizations become trapped in such ‘games-without-end’ all the time, and they are a huge drag on forward movement.

Here’s what I said in The Performance Papers about the issue:

“The easy but fatal mistake for a manager is to take sides because you have been biased by the impassioned them-and-us story you got from the first party to reach your office. Here are some of the things you hear constantly in organizations:

It’s corporate…
It’s the X division…
It’s the IT department…
It’s HR…
It’s finance…
It’s Generation Y… (okay, this one is true)
It’s compliance…
It’s the customers…

It’s important to rise above the fray, and a good starting point is to be deeply suspicious of ‘explanations’ of behaviour that assume that the person or group concerned is mad, bad or dangerous.They just may be, but it is far, far more likely that their behaviour would seem quite reasonable if you could adopt their very different standpoint. If you are a leader, then as soon as you allow a remark which generalises about accountants, headquarters or Bob to pass without comment, you have given it your warrant – and it will become part of the reality you now have to manage. On a related note, insulation from front-line detail among executives quite often produces conflict which appears to be caused elsewhere in the organization  – staff try to do their best to resolve irreconcilable demands (for example between operating goals and safety or regulatory compliance) then management, genuinely oblivious to their own role in the wider dynamics, punish the staff and hurt the organization.”

Action Point

  • Refuse to warrant ‘them and us’ thinking – everyone is supposed to be on the same side.
  • Encourage grass-roots initiatives – they can be cheap and very effective. One client made a radical difference to the number of rejected supplier invoices simply by having purchasers spend a some time shadowing in the finance department, where they started to understand why procedures were designed a certain way, and in a quid pro quo, were able to suggest acceptable changes to those procedures which made both purchasing and accounting for it easier.
  • Do whatever you can to foster greater insight into the work of others – it’s lack of this appreciation that’s slowing everything down.

 

© 2014 Andrew Bass. All Rights Reserved.


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