Moving From Me to We Workplaces

The power of an organization is the capacity generated by relationships. Positive or negative organizational energy is determined by the quality of relationships. Those who relate through coercion, or in disregard of others, create negative energy. Those who are open to others and who see others in their fullness create positive energy.”    Margaret Wheatley, Leadership from the New Science

Do you work in a WE or a ME centered workplace?

For most of you the answer will be a ME workplace.

What’s the difference – and why does it matter?

ME or I centered workplaces are still the norm. They are characterized by cultures that are high on fear and low on trust.  People don’t feel or believe they can speak honestly and contribute ideas and opinions freely.  Organizations preach teams but many team members operate as lone wolves.

In ME based workplaces, employees feel they have to protect turf, leaders are perceived as ineffectual or autocratic. Self-protection is the dominant feeling. Anxiety, frustration and resentment are the common emotions found in ME centered workplaces.

WE focused workplaces bring out the best in their employees – at every level.  WE centric leaders are characterized by caring, courage and vision and to use the old expression, walk the talk.  Environments that foster WE centered behaviors encourage diversity of thought and expression of feeling. They encourage risk-taking and tolerate “failure.”  WE cultures support sharing and discourage territoriality. They are dedicated to fairness and the achievement of the full potential within everyone.  Confidence, passion and satisfaction are the common emotions found in a WE centered workplace.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Despite decades of discussions and program implementation of leadership and team building, the consensus is that most workplaces are still not healthy, vibrant relationship building systems. In fact, many are downright toxic.

There are many reasons for this.  The “legacy” of top – down, command and control thinking and management still prevails in most organizations.  Fear is the dominant emotional driver in too many workplaces.  Most organizations still don’t understand and factor in the human equation in terms of policies and practices.  Communication and emotional intelligence are still relegated to the territory of “soft skills” and are often not considered as essential job requirements. In fact, too many business pundits still question their validity in the business environment!

Many organizations are either in the dark about the impact of power dynamics or just don’t care.  Unhealthy competition, gossip and positional power struggles are often the result.

Lack of organizational trust and transparency is growing. Even employees, who like their jobs or their managers, often report they don’t trust their company or its leaders. Economic and social pressures always exacerbate individual, group and organizational systems and often reveal the weaknesses that are concealed during “rosier” times.

FROM US TO THEM

It’s easy to find a list of the cultural forces and organizational factors that contribute to Me based workplaces.  Many people feel trapped within organizations and teams that are completely out of step with their values.  They want more collaboration, trust and partnership in their workplace relationships and aren’t interested in engaging in power plays.

But regardless of the influence of structural norms and hierarchical influences within a workplace, every person has a critically important role to play in creating more WE focused work environments.

What WE bring to the table matters.  Cultures are important but they are merely the aggregate of mindsets.  Creating more WE based cultures, depends on all of us getting far better at two critical competencies of emotional intelligence – self awareness and self-management.  While blame is common in ME centered workplaces, self-responsibility and self – reflection are the cornerstones of WE based cultures.

To be genuinely successful, WE cultures have WE embedded into systemic practices reflected in interpersonal norms. WE focused cultures cannot flourish unless there is accountability at all levels of responsibility.

SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE – THE NEW SCIENCE OF WE

“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day a lab assistant lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.” Social Neuroscience & the Biology of Leadership

What you do matters. What they do matters. There is nothing “woo-woo” about emotional contagion. It’s real. Emotions, whatever they are, spread. Leaders who lead with fear (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) spread fear. Leaders who lead with empathy – spread empathy.  Empathy is the ultimate contributor to building WE based cultures.

The latest neuroscience has powerful implications for the ways in which we organize our workplaces, our schools, our families and our societies.  Our brains work on an organizing principle with two primary tasks – minimize threat and maximize reward.

The need for status (recognition), certainty (safety), autonomy (self-mastery), relatedness (affiliation, love) and fairness are either satisfied or frustrated by WE or ME cultures.

The latest scientific findings clearly show that social needs are as important to WE humans as the need for food and water!  Our brains are wired to work within the social context of community.  

BUILDING THE WE IN ME

Developing the WE factor inside of us takes work. It’s easy to jump into the ME vs. YOU pool. Our entire culture is organized to support that. WE isn’t popular. Oh yes, we teach our kiddies to share their toys and not whack little Jacob with a baseball bat, but as a culture we are still modeling aggression and competition as our primary values.

So building our WE behaviors can take vigilance and practice. Here are some of the basics:

  • Upgraded Belief Systems– we live by our beliefs (some are conscious and most are not) We have dozens that govern the way we relate to our own feelings, those of others, behave in relationships (inside the workplace and outside of it) and treat other people. Unless we make a determined effort to unearth our deepest beliefs, we cannot change our behaviors.
  • Value Your Values – Everyone has values. We refer to them, but often we don’t really know them or live by them. Unless you honor your own values, you can’t possibly understand or respect those of others. WE centric cultures use values as a guiding force.
  • Know Your Needs – Most people can’t really name their needs. We’re not talking about food or water here – but needs that relate to our social interdependence with others.  Identifying your needs is central to understanding your values and beliefs. They are the drivers.
  • Evaluate your Communication Strengths – and Weaknesses.  If you are too aggressive, commit to learning how to express yourself in a more assertive style. There is a huge difference in the eye and ear of the beholder.
  • Get your Assumptions, Judgments and Expectations of Others Under Control. They’ll reflect your beliefs and values – so make the connections. This is important because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors.

Whether we live and work in ME or WE cultures depends a great deal on US.  Each time we interact with someone in the workplace (and outside of it) we make a deposit or withdrawal into the Bank of WE or ME.  The problem in most workplaces is that the bank is overdrawn. All of the big and little daily interactions have drained the coffers.

So how each of us acts now, will decide the cultures of the future.

Adapted from an earlier article in The Intentional Workplace

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Changing Your Habitual Responses


freedom

“Freedom is the ability to pause between the stimulus and the response.” Rollo May

Beware of quick fix formulas! On this we can mostly all agree.

The E + R = O (EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME) formula, which we picked up on from Jack Canfield’s – The Success Principles How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, is an effective, practical and not a quick fix tool that can help you to change the way you work – and live.

Why?

Because to use it, you have to change the way you think. Doable – yes! Easy – no!

Here’s how it works. Continue reading

Humanizing Workplace Relationships~People Aren’t Tasks

 

Kind thanks to my business and life partner, Louise Altman, who kindly lent me this excellent article to reblog  from her archives. It’s one of my favorites from the Intentional Workplace and one that her readers consistently rank in her top ten. 

To me, this article speaks to a central issue that I believe is at the heart of so much difficulty in today’s workplace – our inability to regularly connect at the human to human level.  To be sure, the structure of the “modern” organization creates serious roadblocks and even undermines empathy, trust and genuine collaboration between co-workers.   The article points to the decaying legacy of hierarchical control models that were never designed to optimize human dynamics.  The article raises important points that I believe are part of a critical conversation that organizational leaders and their employees need to have if we are to restore trust and authentic engagement. 

“For me, my role is about unleashing what people already have inside them that are maybe suppressed in most work environment.”                Tony Hseih, Zappos CEO

Is the “modern” workplace designed for people?

Are the systems created for work designed to maximize productivity and profit or human well-being?

Who factors in the real cost of human labor when analyzing productivity and profits?

What do most managers believe they are managing?  

I have far more questions than I have answers on this topic. In fact, I think we’re now on new terrain when it comes to redefining the meaning of work in a global “supply chain” world.  While it may seem absurd that in one part of the world children are still working in coal mines; while in another, companies like Google have installed, Chief Culture Officers, this is the new “normal.” Continue reading

Being Human At Work

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People are not tasks or robots. I’m still surprised when I meet people in the workplace who don’t believe that people are the most important part of their jobs.  Sadly, the people are a means to my end meme still dominates. Granted, many people are disengaged, burnt out and disempowered – and can’t summon up the energy to deal with diverse personalities and needs and intense organizational pressures and demands.

Most of the business world is still organized on the principle that a job is essentially an economic transaction.  Workers are being asked to do more with less –and faster than ever before. Employee head count is down and the bar for performance set higher. And managers still don’t seem to understand how to establish a workplace environment that view workers as people. An over reliance on the rational (we’re here to work!) and on emotions that don’t feed the human spirit (anxiety, mistrust, resentment, frustration) all contribute to the sense of exhaustion and disillusionment that many employees feel. Continue reading

Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2

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In Part 1 of Engaging the Unengaged, I refer to the Gallup State of the American Workforce Survey that revealed that “America is largely a nation of working automatons, with most people not feeling emotional ties to what they do and sizable numbers actively seeking to sabotage their colleagues and managers.” 

I cited some astounding statistics (hopefully, not too many) that suggested the issues and causal factors underlying disengagement.  A major component contributing to engagement that explicitly and implicitly surfaced in the study was relational dynamics. In other words, “people skills,” which is the focus of this article.

Gallup places the spotlight on managers and leaders whose weak people skills fail to help others feel connected to their work and good about themselves. What are these people skills that not only relate to others, but to us as well?

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, here are a few of the people skills that I find missing in many managers that directly affect employee engagement. Continue reading