schisms and divisions for fun and profit?

Us humans seem to really like dividing the world into “us” vs “them”. It is a simple way of dealing with otherwise complex relationships and I assume that it is a survival mechanism developed in the foggy mists of time when anyone outside of the immediate family/tribe/clan had to be thought of as enemy.

A few years back I was having a business dinner in Germany with a rising star of a company where I was facilitating a  leadership development program. We were very similar in age, family status, etc. It was unsettling to think that if we lived closer to each other we could have probably been good friends and if we’d been born a few generations prior we would have been blood enemies. Divisions of arbitrary geography.

Yet, even when we remove survival or the geographical politics of war, it seems as though we strive to create divisions and isolate ourselves in the warm comfort of factions. Recall, yesterday’s post: we don’t want to find the best way, we want our way to be best. And we’ll segregate and re-define the world until that’s possible. It’s easier to exclude those with different perspectives than to consider the validity of their ideas or allow them to help improve our thinking.

Of course, we’re so good at creating schisms that we’ll do it just for fun and amusement. I used to belong to a forum for a specific sports car. When the car was new many of the postings reveled in the smug glory of having a better car than the rest of the world. Soon, a suggestion was made – in the spirit of fun (I think) – to create unofficial factions based on whether one’s car was a light or dark color. This spawned good natured bickering over the merits of having, say, a dark blue car vs the yellow one. Then, after four years, the car was updated and it became first generation vs second generation. Never mind, that you had to be a true car geek to tell the difference, this was serious. One person even posted that to like the first generation was to hate the second generation. What? Within just a few years the unity of common interest degenerated into dozens of “us vs them” groups bickering over arbitrary distinctions.

That’s a simple example of how trivial it can be, but don’t we see this in everyday life at work? Ever work at a place where communication was challenging between departments and cooperation non-existence? Where the various departments were willing to hurt overall company performance just so their tiny fiefdom could “win” against other departments?

How sad when organizational performance suffers because of internal strife and distrust, because of redefining the company from a united “us” to separate pockets of “us – this department” vs “them – those other departments”. How pathetic when the competition is turned inward and the other departments are seen as bigger competitors than the company’s competition. We get ahead at the expense of the company and we all lose.

We can talk all day about gaining competitive advantage through better customer service, strategy, people, processes, etc. and it’s all meaningless as long as silos exist within the company. Silos and castle walls crumble and fall when we move the boundaries and stop defining it as “us vs. them” and start defining it as “Us”.

What say you?

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