The We in I

Tom GibbonsOrganization Development, Social Construction1 Comment

Just this past week our small group got together for our annual face to face team meeting.  There are only 5 of us and we’ve been virtual for a number of years now.  Smaller face to face meetings happen throughout the year but this is the only time all of us are together each year.  We spent 3 days together in a little retreat place on an old farm and we had the 150 + year old farmhouse for those 3 days.

In times like these it becomes inescapable that our organization has been created and continues to emerge through all of us working and interacting together.  There is much more ‘we’ in our organization than there is ‘I’.  And yet if you listen to the language all around us, and certainly in our organizations, there seems to be a lot more I kind of talk than we kind of talk.  There is such an overbalance to the singular and ever important ‘I’ that the ‘we’ of us has been pushed very much into the background.

In light of our 3 days together as a ‘we’, this e-newsletter is a celebration of the very significant, if under recognized ‘we’ of all of us.

Before the middle ages there was not even a word that described such a thing as an individual.  The word ‘I’ did not exist.  An individual person was an extension of their family, their clan, their history and was not separated from it.  Without any philosophical intention the very real impact that being part of the endless interactions of family, clan, village etc. was recognized and honored.  The ‘we’ of us connects us to the people, the places and the interactions that make up our lives; our very identities.  The ‘we’ in each of us connects us to something real and important.  We are never alone.

When we recognize the ‘we’ of us we recognize that as individuals there is no core self hidden somewhere inside of us.  As individuals we are affected by everyone we meet, certainly some far more than others but who we are is constantly emerging and changing.  There are of course repetitive patterns that we play out but when we see ourselves potentially affected by each and every interaction we have there is tremendous possibility for change.  We do not need to search for some hidden identity to ‘find ourselves’, we can enter our next experience and be different, perhaps just a bit, but different nonetheless.

When we allow the ‘we’ of us to be recognized the weight of organizational accountability changes.  This is not about shared accountability or a naïve perspective that we are all accountable for everything, but recognition that our organizations are created by the interactions between all of us.  It is a constructed organization, and we do not have a whole lot of control over this as an individual.  We need to take our individual accountabilities very seriously and know they are important and at the same time know that no matter how well we deliver on those accountabilities the success or failure of our impact is mostly out of our control.  As an individual in a ‘we’ organization we can do our very best and then let it go.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial things about letting the ‘we’ of us be recognized is that it helps us to live with one of life’s great paradoxes.  In our organization we say: “Even though what you do may feel like it is insignificant (and may very well be) it is very important that you do it, since you just never really know”.  Recognizing that our organization is a ‘we’ organization frees us from the burden of having to see our individual contributions immediately come to fruition.  We then choose to do what we think is the right thing to do, in all its subjective and uncertain reality and get on with it.  Recognizing the ‘we’ of us helps us to be ok in this very uncertain world.

We are fortunate to have the little organization we do.  Spending 3 days together in an old farmhouse, making our meals together, sleeping in bunk beds and spending time both together and apart was a special time for us all.  And a big part of that is not just luck.  It’s seeing our organization as ‘we’ and choosing to see it that way.  It doesn’t change the big challenges so many of us have being in organizations today, but it very much does change the way we respond to those challenges.

Take some time over the next few days and listen to you and your organization.  Do you recognize the ‘we’ of it and you?  Do you celebrate that ‘we’?  If not, and you want to make a start, try this over the next few days.  Simply notice how many times you say ‘I’ when you are interacting with people.  And as you become more aware of this, change the word ‘I’ to ‘We’.  You may be very surprised at the impact this has, first on you, and then on others.

It is time to celebrate the ‘we’ of each of us.

Author – Tom

One Comment on “The We in I”

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