"US" vs. "US" - Unifying or Divisive?

“US vs. US”

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

The other day I was observing a meeting at a client’s office. In attendance were leaders of various departments within the company. One of the leaders was talking about a process change that they were considering. They expressed how the change would have a very positive impact on “us”.  That got me thinking about the word “us” and how it can be either very unifying or very divisive.  It really depends on what “us” means in the context of the discussion.

I think there are two different types of “us”.  For the sake of definition within this post, “US” (upper case) means an entire organization.  Examples of this could be a company, sports team, school system, etc.  There is also “us” (lower case).  This would be the components that make up an “US” organization. Examples would be the departments of a company (sales, marketing, manufacturing), the various groups on a sports team (offense, defense, coaching staff), and the groups that make up a school system (administration, teachers, students, parents).

Now that we’ve defined “US” and “us”, let’s look at how the interaction between them can be unifying or divisive.

1.       “US” vs. “US” – This defines how two independent organizations interact with each other. POSITIVE: Companies that are in fair, direct competition with one another in the marketplace compete hard for a customer’s business. This is what free enterprise is based on. Another example would be two sports teams engaging in competition while exhibiting good sportsmanship. NEGATIVE: When one “US” or the other (or both) uses unethical or illegal means to damage or gain an upper hand on their competition. This creates “bad blood” between the “US” organizations that sometimes leads to additional, escalating bad behavior between them.

2.       “US” vs. “us” – This defines how a parent organization interacts with its component parts. POSITIVE: If the “US” is well-organized, understands its mission and what it needs to accomplish to be successful, it’s critical that they passionately communicate this information to their “us” groups. It’s also critical that the “US” provides the things that the “us” needs to be successful (expectations, resources, training, feedback, etc.).  This lets the “us” know that they are an integral part of “US”.  NEGATIVE:  If “US” does not communicate these things to “us” and/or does not provide the things they need to succeed, “us” is left to fend for themselves to hit a target that they don’t recognize, can’t reach, or both.  This can also create big problems between “us” groups (see #4 below).

3.       “us” vs. “US” – This defines how the component parts interact with their parent organization. POSITIVE: If the “us” groups are getting what they need from their “US”, they are appreciative and put forth their best effort in doing their part to help “US” succeed. If they need additional things that “US” can provide, they are unafraid to speak up about it. They’re also unafraid to bring up concerns about things that “US” has asked of them, all in an effort to understand the decision. In this situation, they feel like an important part of “US”.  NEGATIVE: When “us” groups complain and/or remain stagnant if they need help. Another negative is when “us” rebels against “US” if they disagree with a decision before bringing up their concerns or understanding why it is needed for “US” to succeed.

4.       “us” vs. “us” – This defines how the component parts of “US” interact with one another.  POSITIVE: When an “us” understands its own function as well as those of the other “us” groups, they feel as though they are contributing to the success of “US.” No “us” feels superior to the others.  They understand the impact that the quality of their output has on other “us” groups. They also understand that they are all parts of something bigger than themselves…they are all contributing members of “US.” NEGATIVE:  Simple. Just take the things that were mentioned in the POSITIVE section here and flip them upside down.  Groups don’t understand or don’t care about the functions of others. They don’t know or don’t care about how the quality of their output affects the other “us” groups. They think their “us” is more important than the others. They don’t care about “US” as long as they are (what they consider to be) successful.

My descriptions above describe a parent organization ("US") and the groups that make it up ("us").  You can also take this one step deeper. “US” could be a department or team, with “us” being the people within it. It can also represent things outside of work.  Families could be considered an “US” and its members are “us”.

How are these four combinations playing out in your organization? My wish is that all of them are in the positive zone!  If they're not aligned, not only the teams, but entire cultures can be adversely affected. If you’d like some help analyzing your “US”/”us” relationships, send me an email (kevin@oi-solutions.com) and we can do some work together.