Right or wrong. Win or Lose. Good people or bad people. If we allow it, these tightly constrained constructs rule our conversations, our decisions, and our ultimately, our performance.
We-cultures exist when we won’t settle for Us and Them.
A few years ago, I was invited to a conversation with a newly promoted team leader. She was part of the new guard in the organization and was relatively young in this department of seasoned and successful managers. She was selected for the position because of her fresh ideas and because she was someone who saw collaboration as the obvious way to get things done, instead of some uncomfortable new approach to work.
As she was telling us the outcomes she wanted from our work together, her enthusiasm was contagious. She had a clear and compelling vision for the future of the function, the role of the department, and their contribution to the success of the larger enterprise. When she briefed us about the team itself, she was upbeat and hopeful as she described its history, strengths and challenges.
During my note taking, something else stood out that seemed important: this leader consistently referred to her new team as ‘they’ and I wondered what and how long it would take for her to see herself as part of the team.
To get the outcomes she wanted: more cohesion, trust, openness, idea-sharing and cross-pollinating, she would ultimately need to see the team as an ‘us’ and not a ‘them.’ So her conversation would eventually need to shift from ‘my ideas and their bad habits’ to ‘our growth challenges and how we are moving forward together.’ There was a lingering notion of being able to see things more clearly and accurately that justified dismissing perspectives held on the team; and, as long as that was present, we had a leader who was separate and disconnected from the whole she was so committed to creating.
Make no mistake, her task was not an easy one. It takes a distinct fearlessness to lean into the unknown or perhaps worse, the known and completely disagreed with. But she did, and as she did people responded by opening up to new ideas, recognizing their strengths, and committing to the force they were becoming as a whole.
The path of growth is the path of wholeness.
From leaders, it takes courage and the relentless pursuit of exploring the space between Either-Or. As you do this, you begin to trust that something new will emerge and eventually, you find yourself firmly planted on the ground of a more cohesive and connected We.
What Either-Or struggle is calling you to the path of growth?
What Us-Them conversation is your team in that is holding it back from optimal performance?