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Once again, I really do hope you and your families are safe at this time and keeping well.

I have been spending time over the last few weeks discussing trends that have been growing in our organisations for some time, the effects of which may be being exacerbated by Covid-19. This week’s trend relates to the fact that as the world becomes more interconnected, businesses are becoming more matrixed, with the consequence that it is a norm that senior leaders belong to at least more than one team within the business.

Peter Hawkins points out that this trend is despite the fact that psychologically most people struggle with multiple membership and belonging. He points out that sociologists and anthropologists tell us that as a species we have learnt to create loyalty to our family group or tribe, which leads to wanting to protect it from other groupings that can easily be seen as a threat.

We see this in our businesses where people with multiple memberships often feel torn between two groups. For example, the members of the leadership team also head up their division and its management team. In this instance, they become what Barry Oshry termed a torn Middle, for each of his teams might (and often do) ask, “Whose side are you on?” This, in turn, creates what Hawkins calls a representational delegate role, “where rather than act as a full team member you are only there to represent the other team you come from and only speak when their interests are threatened or need protecting.” Of course, the sequel is that you then return to the team you have been defending and represent the team you have just come from! Pretty confusing, no wonder you are torn.

Yet, this very dilemma is what we all face in one way or another in our development as people, never mind leaders. Stephen Covey spoke about our development from being dependent (as infants) to becoming independent (as teens and adults) and reminded us that this was not the end of the journey (as so many of us seem to think); ultimately, we need to grow into interdependence.

Very strong bodies of different schools of thought (leading developmental psychologists and philosophers among them) put it slightly differently: in growing up, we move from egocentric (I/me) to ethnocentric (we/us) to world-centric (all of us).

So, what can we do with this in dealing with multiple membership of teams in our organisations? My view is that these developmental approaches apply absolutely. The more we can focus on what is in the best interests of all of us, that is the business and its critical stakeholders, the more we are able to manage the interdependence between each level. (And remember, our planet should also be one of those critical stakeholders!)

As Ruth Wageman and her co-authors observed in their research:

“The chief executives of successful leadership teams make sure that members see the enterprise not through the lens of their line or functional role but rather as an executive responsibility for the overall success of the company.”

So, there is really no need to feel torn!

Next week I will be looking at another pre-pandemic trend that is also now biting us.

Until then, keep safe and well.

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