I tried unsuccessfully for years to get my teams to stop thinking in terms of Us vs. Them. “Please,” I would say, “let’s collaborate!” Head-nods of agreement, even a promise of change, and… the same behaviors.
Lather/Rinse/Repeat. Watch the leader bang his head against virtual walls. Watch the frustrated leader threaten to bang his head against real walls.
Recognize that we are deeply wired to see the world in Us vs. Them.
It’s practically genetic. People identify with groups, and they unconsciously define Us. People need a target to work against in order to make progress. Often that target is characterized as Them.
You aren’t going to change this deep wiring. I’ve found a better way: reframe and transform the Us and the Them in Us vs. Them. Reframing for a better Us and Them gives your group powerful outcomes because you’re working with the way people are wired instead of against it. There are three steps.
First: Identify a constructive Them target.
Our unhealthy, unhelpful default Them is usually a person or set of people. We enjoy a common enemy, don’t we? It’s not our best self, but let’s be frank: we’re so thrilled to have an enemy that we’ll find them and label them. We want to personalize the source of our frustrations and anger. We want a throat to choke and a focus for our blame. We must recognize that people are precious, made in the image of God. Therefore we must be very careful if we ever identify individuals and groups as Them.
This is usually the biggest change needed. Instead of a person, consider what wrong needs to be set right. Where is the gap between what is and what could be? What could be 10x better than it is today? Pick the target and make it your Them target.
Second: Get the right Us.
Choosing the right Us is finding the inclusive team of people you need to fight the target Them. It likely includes someone who was originally among the Them. Leaders can leverage the “enemy” we have in common to help us become a stronger Us.
Take no half-hearted measures when you’ve selected the correct Them target and a motivated Us. Unleash the energy necessary over time to defeat, conquer, and obliterate your chosen Them target. Study the enemy target, seek out, and exploit weaknesses. This is how we measure progress.