The “us versus them” mindset is alive and well in organizations of all sizes, both domestic and global. Often, this type of mindset and bias results from command-and-control leadership and legacy business models, according to the recently-published 2017 Gallup Global Workforce Study (opt-in required). Among other findings, the study reinforces that only one in three U.S. workers are engaged, interactive and collaborative in the workplace.

Why is that?

One of the root causes of employee disengagement is an “us versus them” mindset. This mindset is a subtly pervasive form of workplace bias, preventing diversity and inclusion. Not only that — this mindset holds us back from achieving peak productivity and profitability.

Over time, an “us versus them” mindset becomes ingrained as a cultural norm. Dualism is fostered instead of dialogue. But It doesn’t have to continue to be that way. By breaking down big, hairy issues into bite-sized, feasible projects, collaborative and profitable dialogues are started across the workplace. As more and more small teams create remarkable client outcomes, the rest of the workforce will want to follow suit.

If you want to move past the “us versus them” mindset, start a dialogue about the profitability of collaboration.

Yes, profitability. When you talk profitability, you have a business discussion, not just a human resources conversation. You position HR as a profit center instead of a cost center. Have the profitable collaboration conversation across the organization, not just in departmental silos.

We need enlightened HR professionals who want to lead by acting locally. But where to start? Let’s explore where to find cases of the “us versus them” mindset in your organization.

Two Classic Cases of ‘Us Versus Them’

Dueling Departments

The first scenario turns people from different departments and professional disciplines into adversaries.

All you have to do is attend your next meeting, look and listen. Sales and marketing may be at odds with engineering and operations folks, and that is the way things always seem to go. For starters, employees speak two different professional languages. Also, historically, they are not motivated to learn how to speak — and think — like their colleagues across the table.

Alternatively, the legal or finance departments show up late in the project because, historically, they are excluded from conversations “until they need to be brought in.” You know what happens next. Projects are stalled or derailed, based on a behavioral precedent that has morphed into accepted business process.

These “but we’ve always done things this way” scenarios play out in countless meetings during the course of every week. As a result, non-collaborative, unprofitable “us versus them” biases are perpetuated. Why not address the bias, collaborate and move beyond that mindset?

Knowledge Workers Versus the Rest of the Workforce

Often, an “us versus them” mindset leads to resentment of the educational “haves” by the “have nots / couldn’t affords.” And often, less-educated colleagues and workers performing rote tasks don’t have opportunities to learn and develop in order to become part of the teams working on more complex tasks. However, manual workers may be just as capable of complex problem-solving as their more-educated counterparts, given the right tools. Typically, these workforce “Cinderellas” get stuck right where they are, eventually becoming entrenched in a biased, rote workforce mindset.

On the other hand, knowledge workers often have zero interaction with workers on the assembly line or loading dock, for example. Yet, rote workers often become beta test end-users of new systems, processes and apps created by their erudite colleagues. As a result, there is very little comprehensive appreciation and knowledge of what workflow theory actually looks like in practice. Often, these processes fall short of what was anticipated.

Think about how much you could improve the outcomes if knowledge workers collaborated with those end-user line workers, sharing feedback about product and process improvement. How often does that cross-training scenario happen in your organization? It’s not that hard to accomplish.

Bring People Together

Consider what would happen if you brought together a new cast of collaborators on behalf of creating enduring client outcomes. Either they’d quickly jettison old habits and mindsets, or the project would be derailed. As a result, project goals and outcomes would take precedence over ingrained habits. Colleagues would have no choice but to start connecting the dots differently, collaboratively and more creatively.

Eventually, everyone would work outside of their “normal” behavioral comfort zones. Consequently, team members would more readily leave their bias and baggage outside the door and view the project as a professional development opportunity. Once one project is a success, the team would have new expectations about how much they should collaborate.

Want to know how to overcome “us versus them” bias? Allow teams to experience what productive and profitable collaboration feels like. Let your own organization’s engagement scorecard showcase how two-thirds of employees are engaged, for starters. Why continue to settle for anything less?

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