Overcoming "Us vs. Them" Challenges

I work with a lot of healthcare organizations. A chief complaint is the "us vs. them" culture between the administration and the doctor/ nursing staffs. Often they face off over different issues but the most common one is productivity versus patient care.

You may or may not work in a hospital or clinic but have you heard any statements like these in your office hallways?

"

  • Other people should be more dedicated and motivated. Nothing would get done around here it if weren’t for me."
  • "Our department is always having to clean up after others’ mistakes."
  • "The boss just doesn’t get it."
  • "Management only cares about the bottom line."

What is the problem with these departmental "us vs. them" sub-cultures in your organization?

It is rare that statements like the ones above are generated with good intention. I fact, they indicate that judgment is alive and well in your organization. When people are judging they aren’t helping. Over time, the company problems get worse and worse until different departments are lowered to nursery school behaviors like finger-pointing, blaming, and incessant gossiping.

People who work in these "us vs. them" sub-cultures often suffer through days focused on the internal problems of the company instead of focusing on providing better customer experience, increasing customer loyalty, or innovating in order to offer better products and services.

It is important to remember that

  1. Your competition is not within your company.
  2. In-fighting and power struggles don’t lead to better outcomes for your customers.
  3. Self-inflicted damages ultimately cost you in market share and profit margins.

So how can you address this "us vs. them" culture in your organization?

First Step: Take responsibility for what you can control.
First know that organizational culture, as a whole, takes years to turn. However, this should never be used as an excuse for not changing what you can control. Within the larger culture are microclimates – anywhere you find ten to twelve people working together – that are far easier to change. It’s like buying air conditioning for your house because changing the weather is not an option. Your working environment is up to you and the others working in your immediate vicinity. So get started changing that. As the leader, the work climate of your team is directly a reflection of your leadership. How do you respond when your direct reports come to you complaining about the antics of another team? Do you join in or do you give the benefit of the doubt? I hope you give the benefit of the doubt and encourage your team members to do the same

Second Step: Ditch the drama.
When someone comes to you in a dilemma or challenging situation with another team member or another department, your job is to challenge him or her to inquire on their mindsets. Find out how they could be reading the situation wrong. Reframe by helping people get to a visionary mindset, in which they see themselves as the authors of their stories and their solutions. Invite them to take responsibility, instead of coming to you every time. Once they internalize that your response will not be to take the ball and run with it but to bounce it right back to them, they’ll start looking for ways to confront co-worker conflict and embrace team dynamics on their own.

Third Step: Coach the person in front of you.
Your job is to coach the person in front of you. They need your love the most. Ask early and often, "What did you do to help?" Asking this simple question helps people to see that you are insisting on teamwork. If you teach people to redirect their energy from collusion, assigning blame, and planning defensive moves, they can spend their time more creatively and productively. An added benefit? Once it becomes clear that you’ll always focus on the person in front of you, you should get fewer visits from the busybody patrol.

Fourth Step: Turn "us vs. them" into "we."
Work with each team member on their individual, professional goals and align them with the company’s mission. This will aid you in creating one company culture. Communicate this "one company" culture to the staff as often and in as many ways as you can. Departments ("sub-cultures") within the organization should be working with each other and supporting each other. Be intolerant of backbiting, complaining or belittling.

Read more about coaching the person in front of you in chapter 4 of Reality-Based Leadership.

Do you have an hour? Watch this webinar on ditching the drama.

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