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Are Your People Pulling in the Same Direction?

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Are Your People Pulling in the Same Direction?

Have you ever witnessed or been part of a conversation where two people wanted to achieve essentially similar results, but kept talking past each other because they had different views of success?

Had they understood each other’s point of view better they could have worked towards the same goal as an excellent team, but in reality, they failed to find common ground. Being part of such conversations is certainly frustrating but witnessing them from the outside is even more so. You can see clearly how those people could complement each other’s strengths and achieve amazing things together, but they themselves struggle to see beyond their own perspectives.

I’ve experienced this kind of dynamic in many areas of my life, in romantic relationships and friendships, and when working with colleagues, clients and suppliers. When someone identifies the misunderstanding quickly, it can be easily resolved. But when such confusing situations occur on an organisational scale between different groups, not just individuals, they are more difficult to dissolve.

Let me share an example: Exploring what makes people tick.

I once ran a workshop in an engineering business, as part of the process of creating a more attractive, engaging and functional work environment for employees. While talking to participants about their needs and wishes, it soon became apparent (at least to me) that leaders and employees were motivated by very different things in their jobs.

The leaders felt really proud of the competitive nature of the business, and rightly so, they had delivered numerous landmark projects to the highest standards, always on time and on budget. They felt excited about the scale of their work, and about showcasing their projects; impressive images of glass and steel structures, to staff and clients. They essentially measured success in numbers.

On the other hand, staff, in general, were more driven to enhance the life quality of people who enjoyed the benefits of those projects. Some of them were passionate volunteers in their spare time. In employees’ minds, success equalled thriving communities and happy faces. Naturally, these two groups found different aspects of work rewarding and felt proud of different achievements. (If you happen to be familiar with the ‘six basic human needs’ as defined by Tony Robbins, you can probably spot that leaders largely pursued ‘significance’, while staff were mostly driven by ‘connection’ and ‘contribution’. Here is a great article explaining the six basic human needs, Tony Robbins: 6 Basic Needs That Make Us Tick.)

Looking at the consequences.

These differences shouldn’t have become a source of conflict or even tension. In many businesses, people with a strongly competitive nature and those with the drive to make others’ lives better can often form powerful teams. But in this company, where inspirations and motivations weren’t openly discussed, some disconnect between leaders and staff was inevitable.

For example, when looking around in the office, seeing those impressive but lifeless images and numbers left many of the employees cold. In such an environment, they just didn’t get that reassuring sense of being in the right place. In addition, discussing members’ community initiatives was never on leaders’ agenda, so many employees felt the need to keep their professional and personal lives and aspirations separate.

While the company’s culture was nowhere near crisis, there was definitely scope for improving collaboration and increasing engagement by unpacking these rarely discussed problems. That workshop was not the right opportunity to dive deep into core cultural issues. While we made good progress discussing the potential of the physical environment to improve employee experience, no-one was prepared to stray too far from the agenda.

But if a business wants to reach its full potential, and members have different motivations and different ideas of what success might look and feel like, those conversations have to happen at some point.

Allowing space for everyone.

We all know that time in business is scarce. But when you and your teams stop for a moment to learn about each other’s ambitions and core human needs, that will save you a lot of time and frustration later. With this knowledge, whenever you work on your business strategy, workplace culture or physical space, you’ll be able to make better decisions; decisions that your people can relate to and support.

In any business, there should be enough time to discuss both hard and soft measures, acknowledging people’s different drivers. And in any workplace, there should be enough space to display not only awards and glossy images of successful projects, but also client testimonials, presentations of passion projects, and any other images and messages that make employees’ hearts beat a bit faster.

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