When Being on the Same Page Is Bad For the Organization

“All our employees are on the same page!” “We are united as a team!’ “As an organization we move forward as one!” Really? Are you sure everyone in your organization is on the same page, united as a team, and moving forward as one? It is more likely your employees hold different values and perspectives, are too reluctant to speak up against the prevailing view, and as a consequence are less committed to their tasks than you would like. These are the conclusions I drew from reading an excellent article from Maud Lindley, Jeffrey Schwartz and Malcolm Thompson entitles ‘When Cultural Value Leads to Groupthink, the Company Loses’ (read it here), found in a recent online edition of strategy+business.

Drawing on some recent Australian experience with values and perspectives in the public and corporate arena, the authors note that even company values like “courage” and “excellence” can negatively impact on people in their organization. So the key is to develop a workplace based on authenticity, which is described as creating “a context for dialogue in which the organization’s leaders and employees can talk openly and genuinely about the values of the enterprise, and why they agree or disagree with those values”. Without having such safe places for such discussions, hidden conflicts develop that can diminish people’s commitment and increase their cynicism. And it’s not about changing people’s minds, or getting them to al think the same way, it is about ensuring employees “feel that they can contribute freely and bring their whole selves to work”.

If you goal in the organization is to avoid conflict, then the authors note this to be a bad decision. They draw on the work of Patrick Lencioni who advocates conflict, and to avoid it is to put temporary comfort and the avoidance of discomfort ahead of the ultimate goal of the organization. Bringing painful issues to light and dealing with them constructively is the best course of action.

The article describes three capabilities effective leaders have that can help manage diverse perspective:

  1. Mental Agility – being able to recognize the existence of different perspectives and the reasons different people might hold them. These sorts of leaders consistently invite others to voice opinions, perspectives, or expertise that might challenge their own views.
  2. Cognitive Humility – that is, where leaders recognize their own unconscious associations and correct the errors of judgment that result. It involves bring a third-person perspective to their own experience.
  3. The Ability To Foster Psychological Safety – which involves creating contexts where everyone feel valued and heard – where people feel safe to contribute perspectives even if they differ dramatically from the organization’s prevailing values.

Thankfully the authors recognize that not every conversation will lead to a solution, and people may not necessarily understand another’s perspective any better, but it does mean people will “recognizer the workplace as a place with a true commitment to its employees: a place where people respect one another, even in disagreement, and are able to bring themselves openly to work. If you would like to see your leadership and organization become such a place, contact the Avondale Business School on abs@avondale.edu.au or 02 49802168 to find out how.

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