The Outsider Within

outsiderIt is natural to want to work with people who share your values, sense of humour and validate your world view.

Most of us don’t want to be challenged or provoked on a daily basis. We just want to do a good job, work reasonable hours in a positive workplace, go home, get paid.

Strong and effective teams are often those who share the same vision professionally, been forged through common experience, and feel they have each other’s back.

But the reverse of that strength are teams that reinforce complacency, or accept less of each other’s professional standards because it gives them permission to ease off too.

They’re comfortable, and assume the default position of ‘good enough’.

Sometimes that’s the result of no leadership, or having a leader whose become their friend, and cannot exert any challenge else risk the good vibes they enjoy. Perhaps they’ve been together for years, and without realising it they’ve created a space that reinforces mediocrity.

With poor motivation, members of the team in turn feel they’re only going to expend the minimum effort, because that is all they feel the job (or their pay) is worth, or how they’re valued.

Then there is also ‘this is the way its always been done’ culture. It speaks of inertia and a team that is no longer challenged to be better, or wants to learn from its experience.

Another feature of this way-too-comfortable culture is a lack of accountability and candidness with each other. There isn’t the feeding information up the governance ladder.  They’ve stopped caring, or feel that their superiors are disengaged with the reality of the workplace, so they tune out.

One of the common cures for these scenarios is the appointment of a new leader to be the ‘new broom’.  They’re appointed to rev up the team, set new standards and hold the team accountable.

More often as a result there is an attrition of team members who move on, and new people brought in and that can make a positive difference. A healthy purging.

Alternately, consultants are brought in when there is a manager or leader in place to provide a fresh perspective, but not every organisation can afford that luxury.

A third way is having a team member who has the perspective of an outsider. They might be a contractor or consultant to do a particular job, but rather than get cosy in the workplace culture, they are there to speak truth to power and reflect back constructively on workplace performance areas that should be challenged.

The role needs to be overt and their place understood in the organisation, so that any feedback, usually critical, isn’t seen as a negative or destructive tone for the sake of it. It is their job to retain to a perspective and help hold the organisation accountable to its own values and goals.

This may be mean some distance in workplace relations to help retain objectivity, but they are not there to be a spy or white ant team performance.

Their role is to have the best interests of the organisation at heart and help identify blockers that stop it realising its potential. They can also be a catalyst for change by challenging the team to higher performance, including the leadership team.

Over time as successes are achieved and recognised, the culture of self-reflection as a team may be embedded and the appointment may become redundant, its mission accomplished as the team becomes accountable to each other.

Alternately, someone in the team adopts the role for each project in turn and can offer ‘black hat’ perspectives in a constructive way.

But whatever means are used, all teams + workplaces can gain by having a perspective that challenges them to better performance + standards.


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