Deep down we all know that the path humans are on is unsustainable. We are gobbling up resources and changing the biosphere so fast that geologists have even given our era a new name, the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene

– denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

In this blog I assert that the only way we can shift to a more sustainable future is through consciously moving from a ‘Me’ to a ‘We’ culture. Let’s look more closely at this idea.

How we learn about ‘Me’ and ‘We’ as we grow up

Teaching ‘We’ values in primary schools

In primary school ‘We’ values dominate. Children are strongly encouraged to share, sing, play and undertake joint projects together. The emphasis is clearly on learning the skills of listening, cooperating and collaborating. At this early stage of child development society deems ‘We’ values as vital for building the ‘good citizens’ of the future.

‘Me’ behaviours such as snatching, hoarding and selfishness are very much frowned upon.

Teaching ‘Me’ values in middle schools

The mood music changes dramatically in junior and secondary school. Wholesome ‘We’ values are quickly chucked overboard and replaced by ‘Me’ values.

At this stage it becomes all about ‘Me against my classmates’, competing for the limited resources of high grades, and bright futures.

In the exam factory, very little is evaluated or undertaken as a ‘We’.

Young people aren’t tested on their ability to get on with fellow students or to collaborate, empathise, facilitate and build on others’ ideas.

There isn’t currently an exam or qualification in ‘Building trust and effectiveness within a group or team.’ In fact, quite the opposite. Collaborating and exchanging ideas and information can come dangerously close to being seen as ‘copying’ or plagiarism, which are both severely punished.

Those teachers who do try and instil some ‘We’ practices, fight against the inherent ‘Me’ paradigm of the system.

‘Me’ culture in higher education

This powerful ‘Me’ culture continues and is amplified right through to the end of the education conveyer belt.

It accelerates on through the interview/recruitment/selection process and finally, into employment itself.

When young employees join the world of work, they encounter another jolt for which they are largely unprepared:

In organisations pretty much everything of any importance is done through a ‘We’.

‘We’ culture in organisations

Formal and informal teams form the backbone of the organisation. 

One’s ability to influence the group, whilst building trust with as many people as possible, is the key to organisational success. In other words, ‘We’ values and behaviours.

The TV series ‘The Apprentice’ demonstrates what happens when young adults with strong ‘Me’ values try and succeed with ‘We’ based business tasks. We witness the grotesque and hilarious spectacle of huge inflated ‘Me’ egos attempting to assemble and manage effective teams.

Using crude posturing, scheming and bullying the hapless hopefuls more often fail than succeed.

The winner invariably has demonstrated the highest collaborative intelligence of the lot. 

This is what we like to call ‘We-Q’, a representative figure of a groups ability to work together and succeed at team work. ‘IQ’ is not a measure fit for the collaborative nature of the workplace.

Increasingly, it is agile teams who are faster, leaner and smarter. Built on a clear purpose, high trust and very close working relationships, they are outfoxing traditionally structured businesses.

The most successful innovative organisations embrace new collaborative ways of doing things.

The future belongs to ‘We’ business cultures which engender very high levels of employee engagement.

The ability to collaborate, cooperate and co-create are the hallmarks of every single successful venture of any meaningful scale that has emerged in the past 10 years. 

In fact, in all human activities I can think of, when people are related to as intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, feeling and valued colleagues whose voice needs to be heard, they grow to reach their true potential.

People absolutely love to be part of such a culture, and give back so much in return. The collective impact is that the group innovates, collaborates, and thinks deeply about all possible consequences of their actions and decisions on all stakeholders, including the non human world.

The only way we are going to solve the challenges we face, socially, ecologically and economically is through a fundamental shift from a ‘Me’ to a ‘We’ culture.

Rather than nurturing and valuing a high ‘IQ’, we need to be consciously developing a high ‘We-Q’.

Simon Confino

note: We provide tools to help team members align with one another and most importantly, unearth the courageous conversations needed to increase their collaborative strength.

To try the We-Q tool today – please contact us.

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