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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 4/7/2005

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


When It’s “Us” vs. “Them”, Nobody Wins!

  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where it comes down to “Us” vs. “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” vs. “Them” can be “The Troops” vs. Senior Management, or Sales vs. Finance, or Engineering vs. Product Management, or Software Development vs. Software QA, or any other pairing of two parties.  “Us” vs. “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” vs. “Them”, the company as a whole will be the loser.

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

First, think about the consequences of “Us” vs. “Them” behavior, where one party clearly “wins” and the other party clearly “loses”.  The “winner” party may gloat and belittle the “loser” party and behave obnoxiously.  The “loser” party may grudgingly accept the “winner’s” victory, but will often either work to undermine the “winner’s” solution so that they can say, “I told you so”, or will let this “win” go, but stiffen their opposition further and work harder to make sure they don’t “lose” again, even if it’s to the detriment of the company as a whole.  When this occurs, the company loses because instead of both teams being able to work together and build a strong team, the exact opposite has occurred and the company is far worse off for it.  Resentment, or even hatred will build, which will sow the seeds of destruction for the company.

The best approach is to avoid “Us” vs. “Them” behavior in the first place.  A good way to approach this is to put yourself in the other party’s shoes.  You can’t know another person’s problems until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  Learn the other party’s perspective, their take on things, what is critical to them and what isn’t.  What would you do in their situation?  How would you view the current situation and what would be your proposed solution to the problem?

Build bridges to the other party.  Participate in their group discussions with an ear toward listening more and talking less.  Invite them to participate in your group discussions and welcome their ideas and proposed solutions.  The more you can make the problem a joint one, the less there will be a tendency to make the problem “Us” vs. “Them”.

Work cooperatively toward a common goal and for the common good.  Do nothing to undermine the other party.  Rather, come up with ideas that can address both your and their issues with a common solution.  Do everything in you power to develop a “win/win” outcome rather than a “win/lose” outcome.

In situations where there is a clear “winner” and “loser”, do whatever you can to eliminate the perception of “winner” and “loser”.  The outcome was simply one that is best for the company as a whole, and the contributions of both parties in coming to this decision were equally valuable and critical in making that decision.

If your approach was the one closest to that decision, don’t gloat or put anyone down.  Rather, be gracious and give credit to the great cooperation and ideas of everyone who was involved.  If your approach was the one furthest away from that decision, be accepting and make it clear that you fully understand the rationale behind the decision and that you are fully committed to make that decision work for the betterment of the company as a whole.  Once the decision is made, don’t dwell on the process of reaching the decision, or revisit the outcome, or try to undermine it (see eN-030508 – Are You Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?).  Move on, together, toward making that decision work for everyone.

If you’re battling with other parties within the company, then you’re not looking at who the real “enemy” is – your competition!  The road to a company’s success is difficult enough when everyone is pulling together toward the same goal.  There are trials and tribulations that make achieving success difficult and demanding.  This is the case when everyone in the company is working together!  If your competitors learn that there is turmoil among the ranks (and they will learn), they will be absolutely delighted that your company’s energies are being diverted into battling each other inside your company rather than battling them.  It gives them the opportunity to concentrate on beating you, knowing that you’re not concentrating, or even paying attention to them.  What a great gift to your competitors.  No company can afford this.

Remember, the primary objective of any company is for the company to make money. (see eN-030522 – Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!).  This takes tremendous efforts.  When “Us” vs. “Them” behavior is taking place, nobody wins, and the company’s success is greatly jeopardized.  Don’t let this happen!

 Copyright © 2005  Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved

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