Us and Them

On a recent engagement I had pushback from stakeholders to the project team itself.

I have had this before but not to this extent. It made me realize addressing “Us and Them” needs to be part of the change process. Dig a little deeper and you will see it is not just the project team “vs.” stakeholders. There are other versions of “Us and Them”. You would do well to look at them as “Them vs. Us” to understand the significance of this viewpoint for stakeholders and your change.

  • The Project Team and the Stakeholders
  • Senior Executives and Everyone else
  • Management and Line Stakeholders

The Project Team and the Stakeholders

This one is the most glaring in situations where a project team is created just for the change.

At its simplest level, from a stakeholders perspective, this means the project team ONLY has to do project work while the stakeholders have to do the same plus their regular work. If that is not understood and acknowledged by the project team there will be pushback.

You can address this by giving stakeholders something extra- maybe this is a good opportunity to mix in training they value or interaction with senior leaders that they do not normally have. If stakeholders can learn and potentially advance as a result of their participation they will at least listen.

Making membership on project teams part of the organizations development process also helps. If the project team is always a moving body of the same people this animosity will just build. If the makeup of teams is a mix of internal, external, those being developed and those getting a chance to show their capability in a different way, not to mention those picked for the team because of valued competency, then helping teams becomes part of the organizations collaboration structure.

Senior Executives and Everyone else

This seems to always exist in organizations.

It makes sense since there are only a few leadership positions and lots of people trying to get there. Once there you will likely begin to build the walls to keep out the competition. Carrying this perspective into change efforts is a paranoid version of that protection scheme.

If you expect to stay in your role you (we hope) will need to accomplish things. Nothing is accomplished for a leader without the work of their skilled reports. Building space between vision and work kills the potential for change.

Illustrating leadership commitment (especially from the owner) can come in the form of communication with voice, showing up and actually “working” at key parts in the change timeline and acknowledging the efforts and skill of stakeholders (in a genuine not cheesy way). Being open to exchange and timely in responses will at least reduce the appearance of a wall between leaders and everyone else.

Management and Line Stakeholders

This one happens less so since middle managers were just recently line stakeholders.

Because of that previously mentioned competition for the higher levels middle managers tend to feel more connected to work than leadership and vision. Stakeholders appreciate that tie and usually feel a connection.

If there is a lot of scratching and clawing for advancement at the middle levels though, there is a disconnect between the line and first level management. With heavy emphasis on career advancement comes feet getting stepped on. And so you have “us” meaning all the regular people who are trying to just make things work and “them” the group who spends more time trying to further their own lot than working together for solutions.

If senior leadership caters to the climbers to the detriment of everyone else (likely in these scenarios) then you end up with multiple versions of Us and Them.

To begin to remedy this one create teams that are measured on their collaborative effort. The best way to overcome individual drive for success (to the detriment of others and the organization) is to reward them for teaming. Make their climb tie to others and to leveraging the skill of others. They will learn fast how to work together, how to reward and acknowledge, how to enjoy the journey with others. You know leadership.

Be very careful of letting Us and Them scenarios appear connected to your organization and your change. Be careful of getting so wrapped up in your own task list that you appear to be barking more than working with others. If you are a senior leader or a change practitioner make sure you map out current Us and Them equations and possible spots where new ones might appear. Address that early as part of the change process.

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