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Teamwork: Happy Marriage of “We” and “They”

Mar 8, 2015

Posted by

Joe Klock, Sr.

Joe Klock, Sr., CRB, CRS, engaged in real estate sales, management and training since 1949, is the retired Dean of Coldwell Banker University. He presently produces educational material, bot Read more

Personal peace of mind and a healthy self image require that you forgive yourself for not being perfect.

That is to say, you must cut for yourself at least the same amount of slack that you cut for your friends and loved ones, as opposed to the taut lines with which you restrict those whom you neither like nor love.  Aside: Since the size of your funeral will be determined, in large part, by the weather on that day, doesn’t it make sense to be kind to, and tolerant of, the only person you’re absolutely sure will show up?

A similar degree of loyalty and forbearance should exist between a business team and its component members, if both are to function with maximum effectiveness and harmony.

Thus, there should be no attitudinal conflict between the group as a whole and those who comprise it, once goals have been set, understood and adopted.

At that point, those goals are not what “they” (i.e., management) want, but what “we” (i.e., everyone on the team) are committed to strive for and, eventually, achieve. Neither are the team’s successes what “I” (i.e., the boss) brought about, nor are its failures a reflection on the shortcomings of those under his/her leadership.

From “Me” to “We”

“I-me-my-osis” is a disease prevalent among those who see management as an exercise of control, rather than the more challenging task of inspiring willing action in others.  Its symptoms are excessive (sometimes exclusive) use of the first person singular in referring to objectives and strategies — e.g., my goal and my plan, instead of ours.

Likewise, “Whateveritis” afflicts team members whose response to management is overt lip service and covert foot-dragging — a passive acceptance estate sales, management and training of what “they”dictate, followed by reluctant acceptance and minimal follow-through.

Then, there’s the blame game, in which those at each level of an operation find fault with those in the organizational strata above or below their own, and fix the accountability for both good and bad results accordingly.

In a well-run organization, all individuals should be free to engage in constructive criticism among themselves, both up and down the pecking order, but only until group decisions and policies have been adopted. Thereafter, “they” becomes a term solely used in reference to customers, competitors and others who do not appear on the team roster. There can be no such thing as goals that “they” set and “we” are required to attain, nor brilliant ideas that “we” conceive and “they” screw up.

No team is really a team wherein its members, from top to bottom, are not unified in purpose and bound by mutual respect and support. This sometimes conflicts with the fact that we humans are, by nature, individualistic and resistant to the discipline of respecting others’ views and legitimate authority.

Sound organization, though, demands such discipline and respect, both to maximize results and minimize resentment. In this context, as in just about all others, management must lead by example, rather than by the mere imposition of authority.

To the greatest practical extent, the implementation of authority should fall somewhere between subtle presence and near-invisibility. The underlying rule: always praise in public and criticize in private.

Two great thinkers expressed that precept in slightly different ways. Former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis once noted that, “If you got to remind them who you are, you really aren’t.”

And the ancient Chinese philosopher, LaoTsu, wrote: “To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”

Members of the Team

Managers should avoid flashing the stars, bars and epaulets of their authority and present themselves as members of the team, no more or less valuable to the joint effort than anyone else (although saddled with a heavier burden of responsibility for the results).

They should be effusive in their praise of others when things go well, and share responsibility when the results are disappointing — even when, in fact, they are relatively blameless.

In return, team members should recognize that those who are, technically, in superior positions on the organizational chart need to be forgiven for being subject to human imperfection.

Those who are unable to show that kind of respect and understanding should show themselves — or be clearly shown — the door. Powerful attitudes of “we” and “they” are useful in a tug of war, but are counter-productive when the objective of the game is to pull together. When we are family, whether at home or on the job, there is neither room, nor rhyme, nor reason for a “they” attitude.