A “we vs. they” dynamic exists in most companies. It’s the field vs. home office, middle management vs. senior management, and non-partners vs. partners.
It’s natural and difficult to avoid. And even though it’s natural, it is not helpful. It is negative energy and does not serve a useful purpose.
What are the impressions that lead to this attitude? Some that I’ve heard in my work with clients and through 360 assessments are:
- Home office does not listen to us
- They do not seem to appreciative what we do
- They take us for granted
- Top management is clueless as to what we must do every day for our clients
- Senior management is condescending to us
Sometimes, well, often, there is good reason to feel this way. For example, these feelings may arise because senior management is imposing strict accountability on their people in the field, requiring them to spend a great deal of time “reporting in” when they already are crazy busy with client service needs.
There are many, many other causes of the we vs. they feeling, certainly being too busy to have conversations and using a command and control management style.
Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be accountability and our people in the field do expect and want accountability. Problems arise, though, when expectations are poorly communicated and there’s a failure to streamline the reporting system and a disregard for the time it takes.
Is there a more efficient way? Could be! Always look for it. And ask the field how they feel their reporting could be easier and more efficient.
While we may not be able to eliminate the we vs. they entirely, we can certainly mitigate it, which will create more positive energy! Positive energy leads to improved client service and outstanding financial results.
The best approaches to eliminating, or at least significantly mitigating, this feeling towards top management must be earned. There is no single strategy to make this happen. It’s our attitude, our wanting to be a united team. Some suggestions to get started include:
Asking purposeful open-ended questions, e.g.,
What are your ideas?
What are your challenges?
What help can we give you?
What would make your work easier?
How could we serve our clients better?
What advice do you have for us?
- What are your ideas?
Remember, the best ideas are bottom up ideas!
- Listen to our team members, without judgment, listen to understand and learn, we owe that to everyone – and we will learn!
- Thank our team members; let them know we are genuinely appreciative of their hard work and contributions, that they are important members of our team.
- Demonstrate that we truly care about our team members personally, that we want to know their personal business goals and want to help them learn, grow and succeed.
We definitely want our team members to feel our company is a community, and certainly not to sense that we in any way feel superior or above them.
For example, a client of mine recently changed its structure, and the senior leader received feedback about some company employees feeling less of a team since the change. Instead of making his own judgments about what to do, he called everyone together, partners and associates, and addressed the issue, explaining that “we are one team” and he asked the associates to tell him and his partners their ideas to enhance a productive environment so everyone could work together effectively in a spirit of true teamwork.
This approach will change the dynamic within this successful firm, which I expect will become even more successful.
I am sorry for the length of this paper, certainly longer than my usual weekly posts. This subject is very much on my mind now, as it comes up so frequently in my work with companies, i.e., their people, and my individual work with senior executives.
Yes, a feeling of we vs. they is natural, and yes, we can reduce its effect by involving our people as teammates and being appreciative of their work and ideas, asking how we can help make their life easier, and being sensitive to all the work they do.
I hope this paper is helpful and that it can help you further strengthen your organizational culture.