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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Protecting "We"

Keeping a team engaged by focusing on the importance of everyone

I’ve had the good fortune to be part of many different organizations throughout my career: large companies, global conglomerates, family-owned enterprises, and even a few pesky startups. Being a part of such diverse companies has allowed me to have a front-row seat to view how teams function at their peak to elevate an entire organization. At times, it’s also allowed me to experience crews that don’t fire on all cylinders and the companies languish in mediocrity.

What I’ve come to learn is this: at the very moment “we” becomes “me,” the cracks in the team façade create issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

We see it happen all the time in music when bands begin to fracture – many times to the point of breaking up. The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Police, Fleetwood Mac, and Van Halen (three times) come to mind. Then, a few months later, it’s revealed that one person thought they were solely responsible for the group’s success and, in essence, felt they were more significant or more important than the band. Of course, they usually reunite down the road when money is tight, but it’s rarely as good as (let alone better) than before, but I digress.

How does this happen? The reality is when organizational goals aren’t aligned with individual pursuits, people will begin to gravitate to what benefits them over what helps the team. To be clear, this isn’t the employee’s fault; the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the company and its leadership. Perhaps the company made poor hires, has given employees an unmanageable workload, there is a lack of communication or support from management, or even unfair treatment in the workplace.

When there isn’t alignment between organizations and employees, the trip from “we” to “me” is a short one. Candidly, I’ve witnessed it, and the results aren’t pretty:

  • Employees do only what’s required.

  • Phrases like “that’s not my job” permeate the organization.

  • Gossip takes precedence over collaboration.

  • Taking credit becomes a daily pursuit – as does shifting blame.

  • The dysfunction becomes clear both internally and externally as people inexplicably depart.

Turning “me” back into “we” takes much more than a monthly pizza lunch in the breakroom. Like all things, it begins with communication. At the outset of employment – and regularly after that – organizations need to discuss openly with each employee their role, expectations, and how what they do will benefit the company and themselves. This open approach to communication avoids misalignment as there is no ambiguity about how each party will benefit from the relationship.

It’s easy to see the organizations that fiercely protect and prioritize “we” over “me” as they have long-tenured employees, a culture that dictates collaboration, and trust their employees to do what is best for the company. It’s just as easy to find companies that only focus on organizational goals while diminishing individual ones.

With continual communication, “we” can – and does – benefit everyone. Protecting “we” needs to be a priority if you want your company to experience success in 2024 and beyond.

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