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Go From “Us Vs Them” To “WE” At Work

This article was based on episode 189 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Be one of the first two members to request a free audiobook copy of The Business of We: The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace. This offer is available only to members of The Modern Manager. Join at themodernmanager.com/join.

There are so many ways we separate into “insiders” and “outsiders” at the workplace. Have you noticed a “sales versus marketing” split or a “millennial versus boomer” division? Does your international team tend to only identify with those who live close to them? Or maybe there is a sense that those in the Chicago office are somehow cooler than those in the LA office. In addition to the classic ways modern teams self-separate, invisible cultural norms of your organization will make some feel like “insiders” and others like “outsiders”.

Insider/outsider dynamics are never good for business. They cause breakdowns in communication and trust. According to Laura Kriska, divisive work dynamics don’t have to be permanent. Laura joins me to explain practical ways we can create a more inclusive workplace through addressing cultural norms. Laura is the author of The Business of We, The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace. Laura shares practical insights for managers to bridge diversity gaps at the office.

WHAT ARE THE INVISIBLE CULTURAL NORMS OF YOUR WORKPLACE?

There are so many cultural norms that make up our daily business practices. If these norms work for us, we might not even notice them. But if cultural norms are creating divisions that frustrate or unintentionally disrespect team members, we need to become aware of and address them.

Visible cultural norms in the workplace are easy to see. They are things like dress or language. Invisible cultural norms, however, are a bit tricker. Invisible cultural norms are unspoken rules about how people are expected to act.

Laura gives a great example of invisible norms from her years working in Tokyo. In Japan, when eating a communal meal with a group she didn’t know well, Laura learned to turn her chopsticks around when getting more food as a way of avoiding sharing germs and showing consideration. However, when she was with a group of people considered close friends or business associates, Laura found out she shouldn’t turn chopsticks around. Showing a willingness to “share germs” was a way of professing appropriate affection for those she was eating with. This type of invisible cultural norm isn’t something obvious. Laura had to learn it by being involved in and observing the culture herself.

ARE THE CULTURAL NORMS MEETING THE NEEDS OF YOUR PEOPLE?

To figure out what’s creating a sense of division on your team, reflect on occasions where the team missed the target outcomes. Did your team fall short of a recent delivery? Was it because of a breakdown in communication and trust? You can also look at HR complaints to see what types of issues are coming up. These problems may be the results of a team that doesn’t feel united, pointing to “us versus them” dynamics that are disrupting your teamwork.

One solution is to have open conversations with your team about what’s not working for them. It can be hard for employees to speak up about their concerns. Managers who model self-reflection and honesty can create a safe atmosphere for this type of discussion. Reflect on your career and share what you’re working on and how you’re trying to expand who feels that they belong on your team. Authenticity and commitment to change can encourage your teammates to open up.

WHAT DIVERSE CULTURES HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED?

One way to understand potential blind spots is to assess the various experiences you’ve had in working with people different from yourself. Laura offers a free “Us Versus Them” assessment on her website that looks at how much you have actually been exposed to and integrated with other cultures. The questions range from “Have you had a conversation with this type of person” to “Do you have a close colleague who identifies as this culture?” This type of assessment will help you and your team members gain a better understanding of cultural groups you may need greater knowledge of or exposure to. Consider what you really know about groups you don’t identify with, and then commit to increasing your understanding.

DOES YOUR TEAM HAVE A “WE” MINDSET?

Team members with a scarcity perspective may worry about shifting cultural norms. They may fear that making things better for others could make it worse for them. In The Sum of Us, Heather McGee shares how white people afraid of integration in the late 1940s filled public swimming pools with cement so they wouldn’t have to share with their black neighbors. This demonstrates how an “us versus them” mindset literally causes us all to suffer.

On the other hand, when we work on raising excluded or marginalized people up, everyone benefits. Addressing the faulty reasoning of a Scarcity Perspective may help your more resistant colleagues open to shifting cultural norms.

We need to be able to connect across diverse identities and experiences. Maybe there’s a Millennial in your office who can teach a Boomer how to use a transcription app rather than spending hours personally transcribing. We don’t need to divide into distrustful “Us Versus Them” tribes. A sensitive manager can get their team thinking about what invisible norms are working for only a select few. We can investigate how well integrated we actually are with those we see as “different” from us. And we can assure our colleagues that the “WE” approach benefits everyone. Raising awareness and taking actions towards a “WE” team culture takes time, but a united, diverse group is well worth the investment.

KEEP UP WITH LAURA


Be one of the first two members to request a free audiobook copy of The Business of We: The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace. This offer is available only to members of The Modern Manager. Join at themodernmanager.com/join.

This article was based on episode 189 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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