Who’s on your bus?

Posted on Aug 8, 2020 in Conflict Resolution . 0 Comments.

Zandy and I were lucky enough last week to attend a global forum hearing from Jim Collins of Good to Great fame. There were so many poignant messages for us all during this time of global uncertainty. However, there was one overpowering classic Collins idea that is just so applicable to the workplace conflict issues that we deal with on a daily basis.

Who’s on the bus?

This is a time of great uncertainty, business models are being smashed, jobs are changing in unpredictable ways and many are being lost. It is impossible to guess about the “what” work and business will look like, and “what” will be expected of people. In these times of significant uncertainty it is ever more important to be dealing with the “who”.  That is “who” is on your bus? Which people are in the team? That is something you do know right now. The “who” is something you can reflect on, influence and control.  Collins has written an entire book ‘First Who, then What’ .

Do you have 90% of the right people on the bus? And, are the right people in the right positions on your bus?

What we have seen is organisations who do not have the right people in the right spot, or even worse, do not have the right people on the bus at all, are suffering significantly more negative workplace conflict. After all it is the ‘who’ that has to deal with the ‘what’.

We recently helped a team that had a new leader. All were excited after the team’s previous difficult journey and there was much optimism surrounding the new leader. He had a very high external profile and expectations of success were high as he stepped in and up. He was driven, which the team very much needed, however the results gained were short term. This was as a consequence of the leaders’ behaviours and how he publicly pointed out people’s efforts that did not meet his expectations. People did not feel supported to succeed, but that they must succeed at all costs. This gave a sugar hit to productivity, but that turned out to be bad for individual and the team’s long term health. Productivity shot up for 4 months and then fell over a cliff. This was a heavy clash of values: productivity and outputs vs care and wellbeing.  All of this in an organisation that prides itself on the care it provides. The leader focused on outputs rather than the wellbeing and sustainability of his team. Basically, this leader was not really the right person to have on the bus. Or maybe for a short time but not one with an ongoing seat.

This ties in directly with another of Collin’s ideas, being that you need to stimulate progress but preserve the core ideology, philosophy and values. When it is the values that are being challenged deep seated conflict can erupt and in this time of “what” uncertainty, this distracts from achieving business and organisational goals. This is exactly what happened in the situation above. Rather than leverage on the values of the organisation to drive outputs, their style and behaviour clashed with the expectation and values of the team and the organisation. It became apparent that this new leader was not the right person to be on the bus in a leadership position.

So, do you have the right people in right seats on your bus? Are you clinging to those things that make your workplace special – your core philosophy and values? We would love to hear from you regarding these challenging and difficult areas that impact so deeply on workplace conflict.

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