Monday, July 25, 2011

Beyond Teamwork

Last summer I had the pleasure of speaking with Greg Zlevor, whose approach toward workplace success I'd admired for quite some time.  Teamwork, that corporate cliche' of the past two decades, has unfortunately lost its punch from chronic overuse, and I'm not sure it really had the right punch to begin with.  Teamwork envelops the idea of coordinated process engagement, visions best known to many of us through those well-worn posters hanging in staff break rooms everywhere: the team rowing in perfect synchronization, taking their canoe, organization, purpose, and efforts all in the same direction.  All good, yet, is it really enough?  And was it ever?

Enter community: success through relationships, not simply process.  Make no mistake, this is challenging stuff and not for the timid - nor for anyone apt to dismiss such bouts with human elements as being less worthy or less powerful than thumbing through the company policy and procedure manual for their answers.  Especially noteworthy is Zlevor's caution that workplace community, like all relationships, is on a continuum - neither totally perfect nor totally ever without hope.
Like all adult relationships, we decide where on that continuum to engage - and the effort required to invest.  Ideally aiming for the higher ground of community (patterns of authentic communication; focused honesty, listening, and appropriate vulnerability) and all that awaits us for having done so, the unfortunate slip into merely functional, dysfunctional, or even what's uniquely termed by Zlevor as "dis-iety" (patterns of deceit; concerted exclusion of your colleagues, warring competition, and aggressive self-promotion at the expense of others) is, although a worrisome sign of deficiency,  no cause for abandonment.  Like all adult relationships, an estate staff community is a work in progress; each member has influence, both negative and positive.

Like all venues for relationships, the domestic service community may take us on a journey as influential in our estate success as the destination itself of goals and objectives met, a journey worth salvaging, both for our benefit and our employers'.  It's simply up to us to choose.  The awesome power to nourish - or destroy - our workplace colleagues, our estate community, and ultimately ourselves, is within each of us.

"When people feel threatened, misled, and undervalued in a group, and act in ways that make others feel the same, the relationships are devoid of companionship or community... A common sentiment is, 'I have to be political in order to survive.' Employees spend of great deal of time and energy determining which side they need to be on, who their allies are, and how they can best protect themselves... Because of the huge energy drain this creates, people do not push themselves unless they see the potential for personal gain; they do the minimum just to get by.

In contrast, a community... is characterized by mutual service, encouragement, and support... because people feel safe, they can feel comfortable expressing their concerns, desires, expectations, and accomplishments, even if they fall short of personal or company expectations.

Where do you want to be?"

- From Creating a New Workplace: Making a Commitment to Community, by Greg Zlevor, founder of the Community in Organizations Conference, investigating creative relationships within organizations.