As tops we can suck up all the responsibility and call it leadership, when we’re bottoms we can hold ourselves aloof from easing our conditions because that’s for “them” to sort out, and as middles we can tear ourselves into pieces trying to connect the top and bottoms meaningfully whilst actually pleasing no-one, including ourselves. And because we’re all responding to the pressure unconditionally, and are the heroes of our own narratives, we often fail to see that the organisational world we’re creating is not real but a construction of our own making.
Barry Oshry, the organisational anthropologist, offers a means of making a conditioned response to creating our organisational world by posing a confronting question to all of us: What if, instead of warfare and blame, we tried partnership and collaboration? What creative and productive possibilities might this create for us all? Possibilities for greater accomplishment, for more satisfying and more productive relationships and for a higher quality of service to our customers perhaps?
Initially the familiar disempowering response to this question tends to run as follows:
Tops immediately say “More complications! Am I going to lose control?..…Can I trust them? What’s wrong with how I’ve been doing things” Followed closely by the bottoms saying “What are they up to now? Is this a new trick? More work, same money! What came of last year’s engagement initiative?” And in the middle: “Ah! Now if they’re going to be in partnership with one another, I might feel less torn” gradually becoming though “What value do I now add if they’re in partnership? What difference is there left for me to make?”
These groups hook on speaking out to others of what makes sense in their world only, and fail to recognise and address the endless challenge of speaking appropriately into others’ worlds and then wonder why they are so misunderstood.
This is the Side Show of organisational life. The side show has good guys and bad guys, crises, suspense, success and failure. It offers drama and the chance to play a part in which we are righteous, virtuous, helpless, blameless and the victim of others. It is a rich and dramatic place enabling dynamic, gossipy, sometimes toxic, conversations over coffee, over lunch, in the loo and over a drink after work. It appears to have everything including a membership made up of work colleagues that we know so well. Being there is so easy and so very predictable.