Listen Up!

earphonesWe all know people who like to talk.  Talk, talk, talk. And then talk some more. Even the most eloquent orators are best advised to shut up and listen once in awhile. Sometimes silence really can be golden.

Opening Remarks

Listening can be hard work, so it’s no surprise that so few people choose to engage in this challenging behavior. It really does take practice, and after all, who has time these days to do anything but say what they need to say and then move on to the next task or one-sided discussion?

We just have too much going on to care about what someone else is saying. Unfortunately, all too many people see listening as a non-productive use of their time.  When organizational leaders feel this way, sub-optimization cannot be too far behind.

Soliloquy & Segue

Ask any good musician what it takes to be successful. One of the tips they almost always give is that the best musicians listen to what others are playing. That’s how the great bands become more than just the sum of their parts.  Sure it’s always about having the chops necessary to play one’s parts; however, an unwillingness to listen – by even the most naturally gifted and talented player in the band – will keep the overall unit from reaching its potential.

Corporations, small businesses, governments, and non-profits alike, as well as the organizations within them, all work the same way in this regard. The bully pulpit that often attaches to leadership positions and subject matter expertise is a bit like Eve and that apple. Tempting as it may be to push the agenda forward as quickly as possible, those who keep talking and don’t listen run the risk of missing things. Sometimes the devil really is in the details…details which only become known by listening to what someone else has to say.

Rambling On

The lost art of  listening can lead to better solutions to every day business problems.  In many professions, it’s not unusual to get caught in the middle between functional and business leaders. There seems to really be no shortage of those situations that put proverbial body parts of employees within the tight grips of proverbial vises.  Not a fun place to be, but hardly unusual or unique.

Both protagonists and antagonists of high rank often tend to be quite good at making the meek, humble, and occupationally-dependent feel overwhelming and unhealthy senses of personal responsibility/accountability for whatever the problem is in a particular situation. Usually the “science” of the competing arguments is clear and at least somewhat justified. However, it’s the lost “art” of listening that is a lot less obvious in its potential to help everyone move past apparent impasse and productivity loss.

Closing Arguments

In arguing its case through you, does each side make its point in a way that considers that there is an opposing view that could have some merit? Are they stopping to get your opinion or just telling you how it is and how it’s going to be? Is self-promotion and/or self-preservation behavior evident? Do tone and word selection convey emotion?

Depending on the answers to these questions,  there’s probably not much to be gained at any level from matching word count, volume, or apparent strength of conviction. Sometimes it’s best to just let it all go down and be the sponge. Soak it all in. Walk away. Think. Let things chill a bit – especially if there’s been a precipitating event that touched things off.

Now just might be the time for everyone to ‘Listen Up!‘.

True Dat

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                                                                                                                                                                                                             These 12 truths appear in no particular order.Their apparent simplicity belies their underlying complexity. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     1. Monetary incentives really can promote bad behaviors. This truth often appears along side of its “smart people do stupid things” corollary.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                             2. Selling on price really is easier. That’s why so many people do it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. Analysis really can lead to paralysis. At a certain point, it’s time to move forward.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 4. Self-interest really does rule the roost. People are rarely willing to truly take one for the team, especially when they know it’s really going to sting.
                                                                                                                                                                                                   5. Relationships really are important. They are arguably the best way to build something that lasts in an organization.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 6. Team building really does not effectively simulate real life to any great extent. The co-worker who catches your fall during the “trust exercise” may just be one most likely to throw you under a bus.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                7. Following the money really does work. This time-honored analysis technique is one you can always count on to more fully explain human behavior.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                8. Innovation, invention, and originality really are hard work. That’s why people often find it easier to copy rather to create.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              9. There are really only two kinds of people in a privately-owned company. Those who own it, and those who don’t.
                                                                                                                                                                                                               10. Customer service really is important. Remove it or compromise it if you want to see how quickly bad things can happen to your business.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        11. Occupational stereotypes really can and do ring true. Sales people are often outgoing, accountants-boring, engineers-introverted, scientists-meticulously methodical, IT folks-geeky, and so on….
                                                                                                                                                                                                              12.  There really is not enough credit to go around. That’s why people feel they have to steal it from others.

 

 

I Alone

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I alone can’t do it.  Can you? 

After all, it’s hard to have diversity without people. Not even the most adept cost cutters and top-tier value engineers have figured out how to achieve diversity without people.  Not to put it past some to try…but everyone needs someone to help them succeed. 

Adaptive Behaviors

Differences in people and between teams within organizations should be embraced.  Awareness, adaptation, and inclusion are the catalysts through which the raw materials of diversity are set in motion. No amount of stand alone best-in-class attributes will yield an advantage for your company or organization on its own. Someone still has to put it all together. Or at least try.

Adaptive behavior has become a mode of corporate necessity. Survivors at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy continue to exhibit remarkable adaptability. It has become considerably more difficult to navigate within organizational waters. Like never before, survival out in the swirl and white water chop of Corporate America requires not just having the right set of paddles but constantly finding new ways to use them.

This illustrates both the spirit and essence of adaptive behaviors. If individuals can do it, why do many organizations come up short in this area? Maybe organizations do not automatically equal the sum of their parts?

Definitional Subjectivity

Despite attempts to standardize, defining diversity remains a relative and subjective pursuit. Taking a closer look at diversity through a lens that sees beyond the word’s most obvious and traditional definitions is a necessary first step. The main point here is that the definition of diversity most often depends on who is defining it.

For example, Augusta National Golf Club’s diversity for years has been and perhaps still is best defined by its exclusion. With the exception of a few notable inclusions, Augusta has somewhat infamously been able to rest on its status as a private organization as it defines diversity or its lack thereof. Each and every May, TV cameras, spectators, and advertising dollars still flock to these sacred grounds of golf. Membership must have its privileges after all.

In relative obscurity when compared to our Augusta National example, business owners, organizations, and leaders within them also tend to define diversity in their own terms. I guess that’s how they know when they get it right. While they get some help from the legal system and regulatory agencies, diversity that goes beyond the tenets of the U.S. Constitution is definitionally inconsistent and subjective.

Broader Context

There are many aspects to diversity, inclusion and adaptability. And with these aspects come implications for organizational effectiveness and corporate life.  While the Augusta example walks along the cart paths of race, ethnicity, and gender, issues of diversity in organizations are characterized by more subtle and in many cases less fundamental differences.

After all, it’s not enough just to hire people whose presence on the employee rolls allows HR to check off the necessary boxes on EEO reports. Thinking that employing the best and brightest from every walk of life and a variety of different cultures is the end is like thinking that  the world’s finest food ingredients will magically assemble themselves into the perfect meal.

Obviously, it just doesn’t work that way. For as a chef must do in the kitchen, an organization must similarly take proper care and measure to achieve the successful blend of its handpicked ingredients. Without careful attention, the result ends up being something  less than the sum of its parts.

Inability to Blend

It can be argued that most organizations demonstrate an inability to optimize blend. And that failing to do so hurts organizational effectiveness.

Do employees receive the right diversity cues from their organization and its leaders?

Is there organizational acceptance for sharing ideas that may differ from the organization’s conventional wisdom? 

Does the organization stand by as managers consistently fill their teams with people just like them?

Are employees allowed to be themselves?

When enough of the answers to these questions or questions like these turn out to be, “no”, “never”, “not enough”, or “not really” , the resulting environment is almost certain to carry with it a real or perceived political risk associated with engaging in behaviors that can actually strengthen organizational effectiveness.  It is downright ironic from an organizational behavior point of view because the enterprise essentially robs itself of basic connections needed to make its diversity current flow.

Consequently, the collective sum in organizations like these will not add up.

Diversity Disconnects

Some amount of diversity leakage occurs when employees feel that they are not allowed to be themselves when performing their particular work role. If employees do not feel comfortable being themselves at work, the organization loses potential contribution and connectivity. In a classic statistical sense , over-constraining variables results in suboptimization of the output variable.

If the organization does not send a message that it values some amount of constructive differences within its walls, then the individuals within these walls will be unlikely to value differences. They will become less likely to express themselves or interact with those who they perceive might be just a little bit off the corporate mark. Consequently, the connections that trigger the sparks of innovation remain disconnected.

Rolling It Up

Diversity disconnects like this very naturally and effortlessly roll up to departments, business units, and divisions. They parallel organizational structure with uncanny accuracy. If one functional discipline or business unit always dominates, the attributes of others are suppressed. The largest animals in the jungle continue to be fed while others possessing other very useful and adaptive attributes are left to compete for the scraps.

In the animal kingdom, these may include possessing lightning speed, having acute night vision, or being able to fly.  In a corporate sense, these attributes may center around technology, customer service, or market adaptations. If budget dollars and other resources always flow to the department or business unit with the biggest clout or most current success, the environment becomes primed for complacency and stagnation.

Myopic self-imposed barriers become limiting factors for organizational adaptation as the big dogs keep doing the same things and fail to innovate. This becomes extremely dangerous because this is exactly when disruptive market behavior of competitors can go unnoticed. Ostriches with their heads in the sand have trouble seeing what’s coming at them. By the time they look up, it may well be too late.

Benefits of Blend

All this said, it is obviously extremely difficult to run an organization in a way that maximizes diversity through adaptive behaviors at individual, department, business unit, and enterprise levels.  After all, this must be achieved while at the same doing such mundane and existential things as protecting market share and delivering required financial returns. It becomes a full-time job on top of what already is one.

For a corporate culture to even make any movement toward this idyllic amalgamic state, its leaders must nudge it forward. To do so requires some key people at the top holding the belief that the “benefits of blend” outweigh homogenous efficiencies. After all, business does not and should not see itself primarily in terms of a social mission. To be sure, business is a capitalist pursuit, and success is its imperative.

In the end, this really is what we’ve been talking about here all along – corporate success achieved through organizational effectiveness. Diversity is not an end state. What’s important is getting the benefits of blend. I alone can’t do it. Can you? 

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Got Feel?

Are you just going through the motions in your job?  Or do you feel it…you know, really feel it?

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Mixed Bag of Feel

Many people go to jobs each day that they outright hate or at least really don’t enjoy very much. Some people awake daily in pre-dawn hours and commute great distances for what – to basically be unhappy for eight hours plus. Each and every day. For various reasons, they do it – day after day, week after week, year after year.  Before they know it, they are locked into a seemingly unbreakable routine for their entire careers. Yes, doing jobs they don’t really like. For a lifetime. What gives?

Fortunately the opposite is also true. And quite often.  Real life people, with whom you come in contact and who seem to really enjoy what they’re doing, really do exist. Think about the guy takes your favorite deli sandwich to the next level.  What about the yoga studio owner who seems totally on this earth to be doing exactly what she’s doing? Then there’s that starving artist-type musician who effortless conveys  a sweet vibe of contentment with his or her art form.  Yes, these people are really out there.

And do you know what?  These people all have something in common. They got feel.

First Level of Feel

And what is this feel that these people got?  Well, for one thing – it is in knowing in their hearts and minds that they’ve picked the right trade, profession, or career.  Square pegs don’t fit in round holes, and when they do, we can see right through it.  As difficult as it was to say, I once counseled an exiting employee not to seek employment in another financial position.  Sometimes disconnects really are that fundamental and irreparable.  Fulfilling this first fundamental of feel requires having the natural talents or acquired learning to even get on the map of occupational or professional competency.

You won’t see this type of feel in a customer service representative who doesn’t enjoy helping people. You won’t see it in a sales person who doesn’t enjoy the challenge of overcoming objections and providing customers with solutions. You won’t see it an engineer who doesn’t have a natural inclination and facility around math and the applied sciences. And you won’t see it an accountant who isn’t good with numbers, the litigator who doesn’t enjoy persuasive debate, a veterinarian who doesn’t like animals, or the actress who shuns the camera.  You get the idea.

Second & Third Tier Feel

A second distinguishing characteristic of those who got feel is that they have a real connection to what they’re doing.  They aren’t just going through the motions.  It’s not just one size fits all, parts is parts, and doesn’t matter to me whether I’m selling refrigerators, automobiles, or timeshares kind of thing.  Ironically this lack of feel has a certain transparency about it that allows us to see right through it.

Some might refer to the feel of connection as passion, but it doesn’t even necessarily have to go that far.  That word can be a little strong at times and is often overused. The feel of connection can be as simple as a natural affinity for a particular industry or product group. For example, a high school drummer friend of mine has made what appears to be a pretty good career working for a cymbal company.  From his Facebook posts featuring outright stars of percussion and his product informational videos, you can tell he’s got feel.

Feel can also derive from cultivated interest or appreciation in what’s going on around you.  In other words, the attributes or foundational characteristics of those around you in the workplace or the business at hand can lead one to feel it.  Maybe your workplace is a non-profit that really makes a positive difference in people’s lives.  Or maybe your business provides a life-sustaining product or does research that ultimately increases our quality of life.   Perhaps you work for architectural firm that specializes in commercially unique design.  Even if your job is not directly involved in product or service delivery in one of these situations, you can still feel it. If you do, you got feel.

Do I got feel?

So, do I got feel?  Yeah, I got feel.  First off I picked one of the professions to which my natural aptitudes and abilities were well-suited.  You see, generically speaking, I am an accountant. There I’ve said it –  an accountant. You know, those folks who are routinely accused of not feeling anything let alone feeling it.  Those born without emotion, compassion, or ability to feel close to anything or anyone.  But it’s not that simple ever, is it?

Signing on to an accounting career pretty much involves agreeing that you will never be the star of the show. If you do become a star of your employer’s show, you either work in public accounting or your company has big problems.  Accordingly you agree to serve in a support role to the primary activities of your employer.  For me, it’s been a career that’s consisted of strong, relatively long runs with only three different employers.

The Wheel of Feel

So let’s spin the big wheel of feel, and we’re only going to need to spin it three times. But nonetheless, around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody knows…..

On our first wheel stop, feel came for me from the perfect corporate culture at the perfect time within which I very naturally cozied up to the company’s noble calling of digging limestone out of the ground, mixing it with specialty polymers, and creating the stunning visuals of resilient vinyl flooring.  Strange as it sounds, my feel for this particular business came from knowing that chemists, engineers, production crews, and product stylists knew how to generate market-leading floors that consumers really wanted to buy.  At least part of this theme would reprise.

Next stop for the wheel would be a marketing services fulfillment business where I never fully connected with the culture.  Because I was Controller and then CFO, there was a certain built-in professional feel for me because I was for the first time in my career able to call most of my own shots in a financial sense.  That part was a lot of fun.  So there was some feel in this respect, but the pick, pack, and ship mantra of the fulfillment industry left me less than fulfilled.  Ultimately in this case, feel and fulfillment did not go together in the final analysis.

As the third wheel stop clicks into place, my connection of feel emanates from an association with an electronics business whose stars are smart in ways that I am clearly not and never will be. To me, it’s hugely impressive (in similar fashion to the aforementioned vinyl mine) that electrical engineers, product managers, and sales/marketing folks can go from design to build to market with solutions that are truly cutting edge from a technology point of view.  To these stars, the products and their own accomplishments are not necessarily anything more than “what it is that we do”, but to me and to others in our larger corporate family, what these people do has a certain geek is chic mystique to it. And it is very impressive.

Huge non-financial dividends of feel exist for those in support positions such as mine who go beyond the sea of mind-numbing part numbers to really feel what is all around us.  On the functional side of the organization, there’s the additional feel kicker of being part of a very highly accomplished and skilled corporate finance team that keeps me on my toes and engaged.

So oh yeah baby, I got feel. Do you?

Can’t Refuse

When Don Corleone is talking to you, sometimes what follows is an offer that you just can’t refuse.  Often the smart money says to take it. Otherwise you could end up like Luca Brasi. You know, swimming with the fishes! 

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Opportunity Knocks

This is true even in Corporate America.  A Godfather-like opportunity came my way about a year and a half ago.  It was truly an offer I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately it was in a corporate setting and didn’t carry with it the full and final existential impact of a mafia movie plot.  It was much more subtle, but a top company official took the time to call me several times to provide counsel and input on a job opportunity that had rather suddenly come my way within the company.

It was clear that I should take the job, but it wasn’t very clear as to why I should take it or what would happen if I didn’t.  Despite rumors, rumblings, and other innuendo on the corporate street corners, information was sketchy out there in the land of organizational ambiguity. Clearly others knew more about the situation than I did, but perhaps an organizational omerta kept them from talking.

After I had accepted the new job and after the passage of some time with little to no action to fill my prior position, I realized that I had indeed accepted one of those offers you really just can’t refuse.  Rather suddenly or so it seemed, I now had two jobs!

Two Jobs & Quick Math

When confronted with confusion, chaos, and/or crisis, most people naturally revert back to their innate strengths.  For me – a guy who has demonstrated some facility with numbers over the years – this meant that situational clarity would be attained via some quick math.  As it turned out, I didn’t really need excel to perform the arithmetic functions to yield the result that having two jobs was considerably better than having no job.

You see… sometimes out there in Corporate America, top executives see opportunities for cost savings. Often the people who get to be high-ranking corporate executives are really good at this.   It’s almost like a golfer who can hit a wedge that lends on the green and backspins to the hole not taking that club out of the bag when they need a good shot to keep pace or exceed the competition.  It’s an everyday go-to must-do can’t-pass it by kind of thing.

So by now we all should see it very clearly.  Having two jobs really was an opportunity.  The organization and its leaders had expressed considerable confidence in me or had concluded that the downside risks were manageable.  You know, how much damage could this guy with two jobs do in a year’s time?  So, it was with great enthusiasm and gusto that I moved forward with this new dual role gig.

First Responders & Roadside Assistance

Because people not positions make up organizations, boxes on an organizational chart are simply empty shapes until someone breathes life into them.  Enter the human and organizational aspects that became so much a part of what developed into a great learning experience. The dual role assignment became nothing short of a fantastic vantage point in the human behavior laboratory.  As is the case at most accident scenes, first responders are the ones who get there first. Unlike most accident scenes, first responders in Corporate America aren’t necessarily there to provide roadside assistance.

“Boy, you really got screwed.”, was the commentary vocalized by several first responders. Interestingly, several of these folks later (through no action of mine) became cost savings. Others said, “Wow, how are you going to do all that work?”… “You’re going to have to sleep here.”…  Also interrogatively whispered from the shadows on more than one occasion was, “Now, what are you going to do?”.

Get the picture? It was definitely a “good luck with that, buddy” kind of vibe.

Rugged Individualism is Human Nature

True to human nature and the rugged individualism that often governs survival in Corporate America, not offering to help is actually not about wishing ill will on a colleague.  It is also a huge difference from people who thrive on throwing others under buses.  Not offering to help is about self-interest . From a very early age, people are conditioned to take care of number one because no one else will.  This starts as children. Children eventually grow up to become coworkers.  It’s life’s natural order.

No one really ever assigned me hero status or knighted me for agreeing to take on the dual role challenge.  Nor were they willing to cut the guy with two jobs any slack. It really was at times very cold and thankless. Not to mention lonely when the building routinely cleared out at night and was otherwise empty on weekends.  Everyone still expected all of the previous deliverables from both positions even though it was now only one person fulfilling them.

I’m sure someone somewhere wanted to me fail or at least struggle mightily, but I must say indifference and/or self-absorption were the most prevalent themes. There are a lot worse parts of human nature that could have surfaced but didn’t. For this, we give thanks.

Opportunities & Rewards

The dual role situation became an excellent opportunity to improve processes.  Necessity became of the mother of invention. Financial positions offer very little latitude on meeting deadlines.  You either meet them, or you’re gone.  Controllers keep the trains running on time and get their passengers from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  To do this in dual role mode required new approaches and fresh thinking.  And not just on my part.

This again brings us back to that inescapable factor in organizations -people.  The dual role situation required that people change what they were doing if the collective was to succeed.  This may not have been initially comfortable for all. However, embracing new ways of doing things and actually doing more and different things became SOP within the work group. Moving beyond comfort zones brought with it accelerated employee development.

In the final analysis, my single biggest reward from the dual assignment was seeing an employee who knew they would be exiting the company through related organizational change get a very good next position with a new employer. Accountant II easily moves to Accounting Manager in new position – in good part the result of experience gained from….well….an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

Sometimes when you pick up the phone it just may be an offer you just can’t refuse.  You don’t ever really know, do you?

 

Opportunity Knocks

“Well you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.  Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s starin’ right back.”– Dawes (When My Time Comes)

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Starin’ Straight Back (Photo by TWS)

Yep, so it’s starin’ straight back alright. The next move is yours.  What will it be?

 

The Abyss

Like any art form, song lyrics are interpretive.  And any art that evokes response must then really be art.  Laughing, crying, reminiscing, or simply experiencing art as the narrative to everyday situations are all legitimate responses to art.  Yes, even applying art to one’s business challenges and to corporate life falls well within scope.

While no doubt far from the intention of its authors, the above Dawes lyric struck a chord with me the very first time I heard it. Part of its impact is inextricably tied to the the word itself. Abyss.  Even just to say it seems cool.  This near-onomatopoeiaic word conjures imagery. The Dawes lyric’s personification of the word is irresistible to me as metaphor for corporate life.

When Your Time Comes

Sure, corporate life is about survival, but it also should be about leaving the corporate world a better place than it was when you first arrived there.  Or at least it should be. It’s just that basic, and it is hugely essential to health and vitality – both individually and corporately.  Opportunity knocks each and everyday. It’s what we do with it individually and collectively that counts.

If  your immediate field of work life vision triggers keyword =abyss, then you really do have some options. One option is to run. Move as quickly as you can in the opposite direction. Actually, this may really sometimes be the best option. Another is to blend in with your surroundings or hide. You can elect to seek cover. Wait it out.  Don’t do anything that calls attention to yourself.  Beware- as you may find crowds in these shadows feeding organizational entropy.

Or get this one.  You can make a conscious choice to add and/or otherwise transfer positive energy via collaborative interchange. Be bold, but in a good way. Build momentum toward a better tomorrow.  Do things that benefit the collective and not just yourself. Make that corporate world a better place – yes, one conference call, email, or spreadsheet a time. Can you imagine what impact this could have if everyone consistently did this?

Return to Reality

In Corporate America, idealism yields to practicality each and every day.  There can be no other way.  It must be this way in order maintain the general order of the corporate form that is required to achieve business objectives.   Like most things though, this is true only up to a point.  At some point, contemporary business realities may go too far. If so, how and when did we reach this point?

Yes, hang around long enough and you think you’ve seen just about everything.  Until you see the next thing. We all know what it looks like. On a daily basis, we may very seriously contemplate what we can do that could actually make a difference. Even the best of the idyllic lot need to pick their spots as they endeavor to fix what’s broken. One can’t fight every battle and expect to remain standing at the end of every day.  So how then should we go about making things better?

The answer is all about touch points, footholds, and easier-said-than-done….not expending too much energy in the wrong places. Building positive coalitions of competent like-minded people at the level of the work itself is a good way to go.  Employing Golden Rule behaviors and treating people at all levels of the organization in the way in which you would want to be treated is always a worthwhile investment to make.  You can then see who responds in with like-kind ROI.  And who doesn’t.

Building trust among those of the like-kind ROI persuasion encourages shared responsibility and greater safety for taking risks that promote beneficial process change.

The Abyssus Colossus

Within organizations, there often exists a critical mass, who through a combination of action and inaction, are the custodians of the abyssus colossus. They’re the ones that are “starin’ right back” – at those who seek to affect positive change.  With street level facades that more than often look appealing in especially upward organizational directions, these folks seek to maintain the status quo. Seemingly at all costs. Acting in ways that shut down change-oriented behavior.  For some, this becomes a full-time job and a career epitaph.

Of course, you’ll need to be realistic about how much change you can affect and over what period of time.  For example, large public corporations tend to be more dynamic than smaller family owned businesses but are sometimes every bit as hard to influence. Cultural change may require turnover in key positions before processes and people can flourish.  In private companies, thinking you can outlast an owner, family member, or other high ranking official who has all but surgically attached their head, nose, and/or face to the posterior of ownership is probably a fool’s bet.

Above all, it’s important to always keep in mind that ultimately an organization is the summation of its processes and people.  This is where change begins or ends, so if you’re starin’ into an abyss, well….. the next move really is yours. It really is.

abyss

noun \ə-ˈbis, a- also ˈa-(ˌ)bis\

: a hole so deep or a space so great that it cannot be measured

 1
:  the bottomless gulf, pit, or chaos of the old cosmogonies
2
a :  an immeasurably deep gulf or great space

 

b :  intellectual or moral depths

 

 

Same Team!

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“……And I scream at the top of my lungs.  What’s going on?” – 4 Non Blondes

What goes on regularly down in the business hood and out in the suburbs of life should make us all want to scream at the top of our lungs. If we’re paying attention to what’s going on around us and how people interact in the workplace, we’d scream “Same Team!” more often

Team Lessons

Derived from youth team sport coaching instructions that not enough people seem to have carried forward into their adult lives, “Same Team!” is something that coaches would say when two or more players wearing the same colored uniforms would fight each other for the ball. After all who didn’t want to make the catch, take the shot, or score the touchdown?  That’s where the glory was and still is.

The symbolism of the single ball should be metaphorically apparent as people in business regularly seem to fight their teammates for a greater slice of limited reward systems and top management recognition.  And some teammates will even tell you and others that this is what they’re doing and accordingly attempt to justify throwing a co-worker “under the bus”.  Others are more subtle, cunning, and even passive-aggressive, but they are equally as divisive and potentially even more destructive to the team. Of course, this is nothing new and goes back as far as the days of abacus-enabled bean counting.

Team Concept

Part of the issue lies with the concept of a team.  When we feel a part of a team, we commit to something bigger than any one individual. We practice good team behavior by deferring achievement of individual goals, considering alternative solutions, going the extra mile to assist and develop teammates, and ego-adapting to situational leadership needs.  We don’t try win every point, catch every nickel, or be the shining star at every meeting.  What motivates effective team behavior is clear communication, shared sense of mission, and getting the best overall results for the team.

Narcissists are the antitheses of teammates.  In fact, it can be said that they don’t join teams.  Their inability or unwillingness to commit to something bigger bolsters their own distorted sense of self. How can they be expected to be accountable to the team for good team behavior if they do not see themselves as part of any team?  It’s an easy out. As someone once actually said to me, “I don’t believe in teams. They don’t accomplish anything.”

Toward Team Understanding

In their own minds, these folks are bigger and/or more important than any team.  Team dynamics and the group process just slow them down. Ironically, narcissists frequently talk about “the team” but may more accurately be assessed to regard the team in utilitarian fashion. That is, the team and its membership are nothing more than a place to get what’s needed for their climb to the next summit.  In their own minds, they are rapid climbers getting their provisions at the base camp PX.  Many do get pretty far up the mountain.

Not everyone who fails to practice good team behavior is a narcissist.  Most defendants who land in team violation court can probably to some extent blame the system. Unlike the narcissistic offenders, these perps probably do not suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.   Their breaches are rational behavioral reactions to organizational ambiguity, conflicting objectives, and poorly designed incentive systems.   In reality, good team behavior requires understanding and adjustment to the fact that these factors may create situations that run counter to the best interests of the overall team. With poorly designed incentives, some conflicts along these lines may be irreconcilable.  However, good team behavior can still remain SOP if team members hold these values.

Team Perspective & Consequence

Having the opportunity to co-author several published articles with a retired Navy SEAL Captain Randy Albracht provides a useful perspective on teams.  In SEAL biz and with special operations, failing to practice good team behavior carries with it severe life and death consequences.  Look no further than the SEALs for what teamwork and commitment to one’s teammates is all about.   In Corporate America, the risks and rewards that most of us have with our teams are by comparison almost as little league as the orignal settings for the sage “Same Team!” coaching mantras. 

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Randy Albracht SEAL picture

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