Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When It's "Us" versus "Them", Nobody Wins!

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where it comes down to “Us” versus “Them”, where “Us” are, naturally, "the good guys”, and “Them” are "the bad guys”? Where it’s unquestionably clear that unless “Us” wins the current battle, “Them” will win and that will mean the end of life as we know it.

In situations like this, “Us” and “Them” can be any two sets of people or groups  “Us” versus “Them” can be “The Troops” versus Senior Management, or Sales versus Finance, or Engineering versus Product Management, or Software Development versus Software QA, or any other pairing of two parties. “Us” versus “Them” seems to be human nature, but the only thing you can really be sure of is that when resolution of any problem comes down to “Us” versus “Them”, the company as a whole will be the loser. Such behavior most certainly does not show true professionalism (see Show True Professionalism!).

How, then, can you overcome the tendency of different groups to exhibit “Us” versus “Them” behavior? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Are You Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?

Life in many organizations generally consists of developing plans, implementing those plans, and confronting and overcoming a seemingly never-ending series of problems by developing and implementing creative solutions. When a team is really clicking, implementing these solutions to problems can provide a real sense of accomplishment. Everyone is working closely together to achieve a common goal. Creative solutions arise from the interactions of ideas, and one idea often becomes the springboard for an even better idea, and so on (see Multiply Ideas by Sharing). The final solution is generally far better than any of the individual ideas because of the give and take and camaraderie that comes from working well together as a team. The people involved in such efforts truly are part of the solution. They leave their egos outside the door, and put aside their individual concerns and frustrations to work with their teammates to find the best way to get something done to solve a pressing problem. It can be a true joy to behold.  It takes a lot of effort for such a team to come together, but when it does, the team becomes virtually unstoppable (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!).

While this is clearly the most desirable outcome, all too often “teams” far fall short of this result. Some typical team killers include:
  • Whiners (Constant Complainers): Many “teams” contain whiners (would you like some cheese with that whine?). These are people who always see what’s wrong and seldom see what’s right, and seem to delight in both pointing out what’s wrong and why the problems are insurmountable. They seldom find anything nice to say about anything or anybody. They are always pointing out why someone else’s suggested approach can’t work, but never have their own suggestions on how to solve the problem. They often actively campaign against others’ suggestions or solutions, and fight success. It is often their negative attitude that actually becomes one of the key reasons that effective solutions are not found, and they certainly act as significant demoralizers to the team. Whiners excel at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Jellyfish (Meek Followers): Another frequent “team” member is the jellyfish. Jellyfish quiver with concern whenever any problems arises, never seem to have their own ideas on how to solve problems, and seize upon the first idea that another team member suggests, until another team member suggests another idea, when they will drop support of the first and claim support of the second. While they may have good skills in implementing what they are told to work on, they are basically useless in solving unforeseen problems. In fact, they often become an impediment to an effective solution because they are always uncertain about what direction to move or what to do. Jellyfish consume time, requiring repeated explanations, and are constantly exclaiming, “the sky is falling” (see The Sky is Falling!).
  • Blowhards (Overbearing False Experts): Heaven help the team with the blowhard. Blowhards know absolutely what needs to be done, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Their way is the only way because they are the experts and you and the other team members are mere peons who don’t really understand the complexities of the situation in the way they do. They will seldom even entertain others’ ideas, and will quickly put them down as silly, misdirected, and wrong. If you don’t do it their way, they will often go off and sulk in the corner and refuse to have anything to do with the team. Often, they don’t even recognize the impact of their behavior, as they are so damn certain that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Blowhards suck the air out of brainstorming discussions or attempts to think creatively.
  • Assassins (Underminers): Assassins come to the party with their own agenda, and generally their agenda is to advance themselves regardless of what it does to the group or to the success of the organization. They only want to make themselves look good, and all too often they feel they can do this only by making others look bad. If an assassin feels you have slighted them in any way, watch out. The knives are out, and you are the target. The goals of the group become entirely secondary to getting revenge. Assassins can be truly dangerous, sometimes even beyond the workplace (see Stolen Credit - It's Not Just About Credit Cards!).
  • Others: We can all identify other characteristics of people that destroy teamwork. Learn to recognize other team killers. A variety of other personality types, positive and negative, and in employees and managers can be found in the Herding Cats blog posts (see Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge WorkersHerding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist BastardHerding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social ButterflyHerding Cats 4: The "Wally" & The Prima DonnaHerding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star and  Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole ) and the Mis-Managers blog posts (see Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old Yeller and Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-DownerMis-Managers 4: Micromanagers - People, Design &amp: ProcessMis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist and  Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole).