Working Better Together - January 2023

Working Better Together, January 23. Don't lose sight of the person.

Working Better Together - January 2023

I recently sat through a very compelling presentation about finding my "Why". Simon Sinek made finding your "why" someone of a sensation. Having a meaningful purpose matters. I once worked for a video game publisher that had no purpose. At least not one that mattered to the employees. The CEO once explained to a room full of artists, engineers, and designers that our sole purpose as a company was, "To maximize shareholder profits." Shockingly, not many people are motivated to make rich people richer. Short of laying everyone off, I'm not sure what he could have done to deflate that audience more. And they did get to the layoffs, as the company eventually went bankrupt. Coincidence?

However, just knowing your why is only a starting point. Unifying a group of people around a core purpose can be very effective. When you know why your company exists, how you want to approach solving the problem, and what you are going to do to solve the problem, you have a powerful story. You can align your efforts toward a common goal. Sinek explained that Apple does this very well. Their why is to "disrupt established industries." How they do it is through groundbreaking, easy to use technology. What they sell are Macs and iPhones. I am oversimplifying, but you get the gist. There is alignment at every level.

Developing a cohesive Why, How, and What story for your business, or even for your life can be a powerful tool to create alignment and common vision. Everyone working toward a common goal is the essence of teamwork. However, I have one caution about these kinds of programs.

Be careful when you try to systematically simplify someone else's motivations.

In my experience, every kind of personality profile, whether it is Myers Brigs, Strength Finders, True Colors, Kolbe, or Culture Index, they all share one powerful benefit. They can help you understand that different people see the world differently, and if we make the effort to see the pictures in their heads, we can dramatically improve communication and teamwork. Where all of these programs have a problem, however, is when we stop seeing people as human, and we only see the labels we have assigned to them. She's a "Makes Sense", or "He's a Diplomat", or "they're a Fact Finder".

We have a word for people who label others without really seeing them. That word is "Bigot". The risk in all of these systems is that we conceptualize people. It is counterproductive to reduce people into easy to remember labels. Instead of meeting their needs and drawing closer, we form what Brené Brown called "near enemies". Instead of creating connection, we create disconnection. People can feel when they have been categorized.  

If you want to work better together, I recommend embracing differences, but I would stop short of putting people in little boxes. It is especially offensive (and demoralizing) when you lecture people about their styles. As an engineer, I am painfully aware that every model has its limitations. No matter how good the science, how compelling the stories, every model is just that, a model. It is not, and can never be, reality. Developing other modes of working with people is a powerful skill, but we should never lose sight of the people we work with.