How do we get to WE?

There is something in the air.  Call it my natural human tendency to find patterns in things, but two recent conversations with two different clients in two different cities have reminded me of two other completely different clients in two completely different countries.  The parallels are striking.  It could be my bias towards systems thinking, but it has reinforced my belief in unus mundus, the underlying unified reality that interconnects all things.

interconnectednessWhat is the common thread?  All four of these businesses are sick and tired of being sick.  And tired.  Like, really tired.  All four are nearing their “breaking point.”  That is, they have tried just about everything they know to shift workplace behaviour and engagement.  They are running out of options as to how to get people to take up personal responsibility.  All four of these clients are right at the threshold of making significant shifts in how they do their business.  The scales are falling from their eyes and they are seeing their businesses as whole entities and not viewing symptoms of ineffectiveness as separate from the whole or problems to be solved piecemeal.  They are ready to get to grips with new ways of dealing with their problems.  The clever onion behind the thinkpurpose blog writes, “When you change what you think about how the work works, then you will begin to change how you act, this will change the way work is set out and happens and how people act in the work place.”  These four businesses are right at the place of changing how they think about what works.

Essential to seeing their business as whole entities is being able to see the webs that weave everyone together.  Frustrated with old ways of trying to get people to do things, they are beginning to acknowledge that simply dealing with individual performance is futile.  They understand that the system impacts too much on individual performance to waste their efforts solely on individuals.  They know that the quality of their outcome will be directly correlated to the quality of relationships that they forge.  As David Wilson writes in his blog, fitforrandomness ”Imagine assessing the robustness of the electricity grid with data on power stations but not on the power lines connecting them.”  In order to assess the strength and fitness of an organisation, we need to examine both the individual elements that make up that systems as well as the relationships between them.  To work with only the individuals within a business without also working on their connections is a nonsense.  It’s both a delicate and a heroic undertaking.

What’s wrong with what they’ve got now?  Not much, it turns out.  They have a lot going for them.  They have senior teams with an enormous amount of experience and technical ability.  They are personable and friendly.  They believe in the purpose of their businesses.  They are robust and intelligent.  Put the senior team in a room together, however, and they aren’t sure how to work truly collectively.  Put oxygen and hydrogen in a bucket together and they don’t miraculously coalesce and become water.  Some energy needs to go into the bucket to create H2O.

I’ve written before on the power of WE in business.  Bringing in the theme of my last article about developing consciousness, there is something that can catalyse this WE-ness for business.  Many aspire to it, but we often get stuck when it comes to actually doing it.  How do we become a WE?  It’s not enough to go away and make commitments to each other.  Just like a marriage, it’s not just what happens on the wedding day when you promise some things to each other that makes it a good marriage.  The good marriage comes about through a shift in consciousness from “you and me” to WE.  A good partnership comes about because each party understands that what you want as an individual and what I want as an individual may not necessarily deepen nor be for the good of our relationship.  A good, mutual partnership comes about because effort and energy have been invested in strengthening that web that weaves us together.

A shift in consciousness is required.  That is, greater awareness of what we are currently doing in order to move towards the thing we want to be doing.  Is how you relate, behave and engage with one another assisting you to create the WE?  In working with one senior team, we coached them to become observant of themselves in order to create this new consciousness.  This requires them to develop the role of Observant Team-Player.  For many of us, we operate out of a “selfish” mindset.  In other words, we look at what we do and how we do it with a view to doing our best.  We sometimes lose sight of the fact that others are trying to do the same, and sometimes this means that we might be working at cross purposes.  I’m doing my best, you’re doing your best, but in our “doing-my-best-ness”, we haven’t worked out how to synthesise this into a “WE are doing our best”.  In common parlance, this is operating in silos.

Here’s what it might look like.  In our regular team meeting, I contribute to conversations on the agenda, but I do this while wearing one of two hats: my personal hat or my operational hat.  I am both trying to be a good person and trying to optimise the work, but from MY perspective.  Wearing my personal hat, I am saying (unconsciously, of course):

  • “How do I make myself look good?”
  • “How can I get people to notice me?”
  • “How can I garner praise?”
  • “How can I get people to like me?”
  • “How can I prove I’m valuable?”

All human things, these.

Wearing my operational hat, I contribute things which demonstrate my technical abilities and knowledge.  If I’m a financial guy, I will speak on any of the agenda items from a financial perspective.  If I’m a marketing guy, I will speak about things from a marketing perspective.  All necessary and important.  I may contribute little or nothing to conversations that I believe have “nothing to do with me”.  Doing this, however, may not develop the sense of “team-ness” that we all need to synthesise together if we are to achieve our common purpose.  If I keep speaking from my operational perspective, I may be reasonably successful in achieving the operational purpose of my silo.  Remember, though, that optimising one part of the system will lead to sub-optimisation of the whole, so if I do MY very best and if everyone is doing THEIR very best in their silos, it doesn’t follow that the whole will be doing its very best.

There is something missing.

If I participate in the meeting wearing only my personal or operational hats, I miss the opportunity to develop the life of the whole team.  I need to put on my team member hat.  When I wear this, I become conscious of myself, I become conscious of when I have an impulse to speak and what I feel moved to say, I observe others’ contributions and I make an assessment as to whether what is going on is furthering the life of the group.  Is what I say coming from a “Me” perspective, a “Me-doing-my-work-well” perspective or a “WE” perspective?  When each member of a team has developed the ability to observe the dynamics of the team, they will learn how to interrupt someone who is “fighting their corner” if they are doing it to the detriment of the effectiveness of the whole.  If they feel that someone is warming up to speak out of their silo, they will challenge people to stop and consider what they are about to contribute: “Is what you are about to say going to progress the life of this team as a whole?”

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

If I’m operating with my WE hat on, I will see that all of the agenda items pertain to me in some way, because they pertain to the effectiveness of the whole business.  Furthermore, if I can’t work out how it pertains to me, there is an opportunity to find out how it does.  Because it does.  Trust me.  If I’m wearing my WE hat, I will see that my technical expertise is best applied when in concert with everyone else’s and vice versa.  Having said all this, I bring all my hats to meetings, I can’t simply focus my efforts on developing a good team feeling.  The expanded consciousness that gets us to WE incorporates and transcends everything we already know and do.

For one of these businesses, who is more than ready and willing to do this “WE” thing, they have an idea of what they want to become, but don’t know how to do it consistently.  This is not unusual, in my experience.  They haven’t yet had enough moments of “felt experience” to be able to say they’ve got there, but what they have tasted so far makes the effort worthwhile.  While a lot of businesses have talked about teamwork and the team effect for years, the investment required in order to really achieve it has been patchy.  Investment in catalysing this team effect is like energy is to the hydrogen and oxygen in the bucket.  Sometimes, it seems that we find ourselves in fantastic teams and it feels great, but I would suggest this is sometimes down to good luck.  We spot each other, we have each other’s back.  Relationships are genuinely mutual and go beyond “what can you do for me and what can I do for you.”  Such teams go beyond collaboration.  They cooperate.  No quid pro quo.  We have a consciousness of operating out of a mindset that furthers the life of the whole.  Just as an architect may sacrifice the optimisation of one room of a house in order to achieve a more satisfying whole, we may quite easily sacrifice something that is of special interest to us for the benefit of the whole.  When we are operating as a WE, we have stopped thinking about people as bodies to do transactions or deals with, we enjoy being with each other and we achieve more as individuals because of the chemistry that is created by the whole.

Getting to WE is not an event, it’s a process.  It doesn’t happen in a moment, it happens over many moments.  It’s not “step 1, step 2…”  Like other mindfulness disciplines, it takes practice, attention and commitment.  I find it heartening that it’s finally in the air and that some businesses are taking the steps to get there.

19 thoughts on “How do we get to WE?

  1. Hello John

    It occurs to me that if you put a bunch of people in the same boat. And it is so that they have to work together to survive/prosper then that is what they tend do. No change in consciousness is required.

    I have sat in countless meetings where the talk is of ‘teamwork’ and ‘cooperation’ and ‘collaboration’. And the people are blind to the reality of the structure of the system in which they were all embedded and which shaped their being/behaviour. What was the structure of the system: individual goals, competing agendas, competition for resources, competition for rewards/status/promotion, individual rewards…. The structure of the system called forth competition and fragmentation. When I suggested they restructure the system so as to take away individual rewards and reward the collective performance of the team, the reaction was something to behold.

    Which is my way of saying I do not lend weight to change in consciousness. Spiritual teachers have been attempting to do that. Failure. The pragmatist changes the structure of the system so that the desired behaviour is called forth. Take a look at this, it is a great example of that which I am pointing at:

    At your service

    1. Maz, thanks again for reading and contributing. I’m with you with regards setting up new structures which lay the conditions for more cooperation. I’m with you when you say let’s do away with competition for reward, promotion and status. Absolutely. What I have set out comes from the work I have been doing with some businesses who have a lived experience that generates a shift in consciousness to ‘what could be’. This, in turn generates a warm-up to question the status quo and begin to seek new healthier and more effective structures. As I described in a previous article, raising consciousness is but a phase of the work of transformation. I think it goes hand in hand with some action, of course. Consciousness-raising with nothing else may result in greater consciousness, but without a warm-up to action, it may be unsatisfactory. I don’t see it as an either/or, it’s a both/and. This article describes but a sliver of the work required to generate greater cooperation in the world and as I have said before, a shift in consciousness is A first step (not THE first step) towards creating something different.

      I like the benches, by the way.

  2. Hi John.

    Another great exploration here. Great synthesis. The more I look at these questions, the more I see that it’s our either or thinking that keeps derailing us. I don’t believe It’s systems vs. consciousness.

    Systems are created by the level of consciousness that exists. I know we use this term loosely – and it means different things to different people but if we simply think of it (and I don’t limit this in my own thinking) that it is the total field of awareness that we (or a system has) at any given moment, we can see countless examples of how consciousness has shifted and expanded over time, personally and collectively.

    Certainly your points about the ME consciousness – the selfish mindset – is the common mindset. As neuroscience explores this now, it is discovering all sorts of contradicts to collective beliefs that have shaped cultures so far. The system changes itself, I believe, through individual mindset shifts, as it is simply an aggregate idea of individual mindsets.

    Your thoughts?
    PS I always go for a 2nd cup of coffee or tea when I am about to read one of your articles. That’s – a very good thing!


    PPS I agree with Maz’s point about hearing talk, talk, talk about teamwork and such things but to your point – without the “felt experience,” it doesn’t necessarily lead to action.

    1. Yes Louise, it’s the either/or thing that holds us back. Paradigm shifts include and transcend the old, we don’t simply dispose of them and start from scratch. I’m with you; it’s not systems vs consciousness. Perhaps I was a little clumsy in how I wrote, because my belief and practice comes from a systems AND consciousness approach. I don’t believe (from experience) that we can get unstuck by focussing on only one or the other, it’s both/and. True, individual mindset shifts need to occur or the system won’t shift. I believe it’s a reflexive (and not causal) relationship, too. As systems shift, so, too, do individual mindsets.
      Thanks again for your thoughtful additions! Once again, you spark me to think a little more clearly. I delight in comments such as yours and Maz’s because I set out to write in order to help me clarify my thoughts and doing that with you facilitates that even more.

  3. Hello John
    This is what i believe my friend is essential
    opening sentence I’d like to speak about communications within. May I ask doe’s the burden of communication rest with the person who wishes’ to communicate. If you accept that this is the case and that the burden lies with others, then please don’t make your people have to ask, we need to create a give and take environment where we are all free to tell others, to provide everyone with an opportunity at all levels what we think on what we’ve heard, what we know and what we see and how it impacts others daily. We all know that the company and its services are only as good as the employee’s so I ask, are we empowered or encouraged to serve differently than just the norm. You see whether its Government, Ministry in sports or academically if we are going to win this fight for sustainability and profitability then someone must lead, this is not a finger pointing exercise to pass blame but to highlight what I see as a lack of passion from so many  within, with passion anything is possible  we need to ignite the fire within us because  the reflection of any team is viewed by its reflection of the leaders, surely if the leaders are not passionate and open with us all then you really can’t expect the team to be, so I ask Politely if I may ” How high is our passion for what we believe in how we lead” once again this is no time to point fingers and I’m certainly not judging anyone for you’ve all contributed far more than I, but oh how I pray for the opportunity. SYSTEM THINKING. With a System Thinking programme it can enable us to look at far more than just our monthly targets which absorbs time and effort when concentration on other key area’s will allow the targets to be reached each month regardless. 1. Do we look at how things have been running and compare with the company’s expectations and aspirations on a let’s say three year plan 2. Do we already or could we adopt a service division to create an internal chart, reflecting on individual expectation the values they bring to work as a team, reflecting on things they’re familiar with in their private lives but producing them in the work place, in similar respects with openness and trust to establish each employee’s capabilities being or dealing with they may not be familiar with. 3. Thus look to carry out more in house training utilising the skills others may have to improve each and every individual on topics that are and will be essential for the direction the company and as important the security industry is heading. 4. Look at how each and every individual is being used within the company to clearly see whether or not they are being used to their maximum potential or are they being held back based on an individual’s own opinion rather than facts which can and should be collected on all aspects not just the negative. We look at Key strengths in individuals based on on-site productivity; administrate skills and an in house assessment using an in house training facility. 5. We need to seriously look at the collaborations between the various internal divisions to work closer and harder together for a single goal, that being as a team for Reliance High Tech, with that we need to look at engineer allocation to sub-contractors as part of OUR agreement with them rather than be dictated to by parties not directly in our team for our goals. Not theirs, this I believe to be vital as all too often there’s too much infrastructure knowledge and technical knowhow regarding new products or installs that remain with the sub-contractors. 6. At present I ask are we in a position to lose any more contracts based on new ones, if the answers no should we not look at each individual customer and their different expectations of us with a new SYSTEM THINKING policy implemented, for example apart from the standard contracts that I know of what else can we do to identify Groups of customers based on there (level of spend. Equipment procedures. Each customer’s expectations of our ALL ROUND service. Strengthening relationships based on value insuring value provided thus maintaining trust, support and understanding on a more personal level to keep our Bread and Butter contracts.. 7. Possibly look at an offset subsidiary part of reliance to concentrate on our smaller contracts, dated systems i.e. analogue or the older software applications, provide a sole ppm set up that works closely with the service dept. thus also allowing the older engineers throughout that may not be able to keep up with the ever changing high spec, I.T. service we are looking to provide. Perhaps even the sites that don’t have contracts, can we maintain importance for them which sustain regular income over a longer sustained period during these difficult economic times. Let’s look at how we can bring these customers on board with contracts with an understanding and implementing value to the client allowing them to ride the storms but all the time strengthening relationships with a united view on future collaboration on upgrades, there expenditure so we may be involved because we care long term rather than making short term gain. 8. The security industry is not just a lucrative but similarly competitive industry so I ask, how do we compare to our competitors, our relationships with suppliers and our individual passions for the employment rolls we are in so we need to adopt a standard handover policy utilising our fellow employee’s importance over any sub-contractors, set up a new procedure from enquiry, to design, sale all the way to handover monitoring the man management hours assigned to each new job thus by creating our project managers to be more vidulant and less care free when completing new works which will in turn save many man hours, call’s and fuel etc. reducing the loss on any new project. 9. In an age of the internet and being a Technical company are we doing enough to use the full range of the social media to support connectivity, long gone are the days of just compliance and attendance in all major world Tech companies as they’ve all switched to creativity, productivity and performance as the key aspects for growth, so can we do more with the talent we already have within the company, as I believe those with a passion and the shackles released could and should be able to expand the profile and image of Reliance by using those with a passion for what they do within the I.T or Tech departments in a more active media role. CONCLUSION These are but a few ideas’s based on some Key features that feature predominantly in my life as I’m sure it does in many others and those are of course values… I’ve come to realise that if we adopt a much more proactive role for openness with each other it’ll enable Transparency which develops into a common goal which in this case is to create a diversity of idea’s which will re-in force openness again, putting all 3 into consideration will re-enforce our trust with each other enabling more responsibility, creating the spark to ignite the passion and belief of our common company strategy. If you’ve taken the time to read this then I thank you and look forward to 2013 and all it’ll bring.

    Sorry its so long but your feed back would be most appreciated

    1. Mark, thanks for such a considered and interested contribution. You clearly have a lot of passion about making workplaces work better for yourself and others. The themes I have picked up in your comments, such as continuous improvement, thinking bigger than targets, living values, relationships (over and above transactions), openness and transparency are also dear to my heart. I’m glad there are others such as you who are considering how to be proactive, rather than take up a dependency position, waiting for someone to do it for them. As for your question: Does the burden of communication lie with the one who wishes to communicate? My feeling is it’s a mutual thing. The burden, if there is one, lies on both parties’ shoulders. If one is unwilling, to my mind, not much will be achieved.

  4. Spot on John and up to the usual high standard. Thanks for the reference too!

    I started a comment earlier but lost it…I’ll blame the (not quite so) Smartphone.

    As you know, from a Complexity perspective, it is about how and what fits together but so much of that relies upon how systems are structured to aid the information-flow within the system. The most resilient systems being those whose processes function interdependently…a fact ‘overlooked’ by many of the management gurus who prefer to ‘overlook’ the FACT that we have emerged from a post-industrial era but are intent upon practising their art, irrespective of the damage done – by maintaining or ‘managing’ non-linear processes using linear-thinking.

    It tends to pay better to perpetuate what you KNOW to be wrong than admit that the basis upon which your ‘expertise’ is based, is fundamentally flawed.

    ME formula: mine – “self serving”


    Historical (blind) faith in institutions, even pre-credit crunch, was being questioned and eroded. In current climate the exposure of institutional and political greed has only served to accelerate the process.
    Independence in business is, to a fair extent, a falsehood! Every business needs customers. Business needs to SELL their products and services.

    Quantity model

    Customer silos


    1. Thanks David, we are on a similar wavelength. As I wrote this, I had another idea in mind, which I’m expanding into another article, about dependence. Cultures of dependence are limiting, too. We need to move to a worldview of interdependence. I like your point that it pays better to maintain what we “KNOW”, even if we know it to be wrong, rather than admit it’s flawed and seek something new. Just like 1500 years ago we “KNEW” the Earth was the centre of the universe and that we also “KNEW” the Earth was flat, it pays to update our worldviews.
      Best, John

  5. Cheers John,
    Thought you might appreciate this quote:

    “Being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point – a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides” Thomas Crum

    Although Alvin Toffler’s quote re the illiterate of the 21st century may be even more pertinent.

    I look forward to the nest ‘thrilling instalment’!


  6. I rhyme with David and John. In Pegasus where almost 3000 executives every month experience team building in the outbound, playing dynamic obstacles that simulate their business reality, we focus on making the we -WE transformation. Come to India to help our designers discover new ways to build this consciousness big time work.
    In this ego centric , individualistic , consumption centric world values, hoarding , comparing, possessing and exploiting the other is rampant. We need to unify this fracturing of society from WE to ME. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. It builds hope that so many executives are applying themselves to generate this WE transformation. ….and I would be delighted to come to India! Best of luck to you too!

  7. i was listening to my daughter read from the army’s survival guide and found a connection to your article..
    Evidently those with the best chance of surviving are not neccessarily the ones with all the training and the skills . The survivors are the ones who have the will to survive and can against all odds adjust to the stress of a crisis .. so John i know you are not talking about a life or death situation but isnt it true that its not the skills and training and experience of managers or whoever in the work place that makes it work… iits that absolute will and passion that can some how tap into creative thinking .. see thru the woods to the trees… rise above the clouds of distraction and inspire and gel it all together.

    1. Very interesting Lyndsey! I think a big part of the solution that will help us survive as a race is to get it together much more. In a sense, it is life or death because a lot of the crises we face are heading us down the wrong path. Environmental degradation, poverty, disconnection from Nature and each other. Not a good sign for the long-term survival of our species.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s