Joe Biden’s Unity Address at the inauguration on January 20, 2021 was the title of an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal written by their editorial board. In the opening paragraph, they write “The peaceful transfer of power from one party to another is a sign of underlying democratic strength no matter our current political distemper.”
I have always believed that this is one of the true strengths of our republic and our constitution. If you look back through history, I believe that we are the only country that has pulled off this peaceful transfer of power for over two hundred years. It makes me very proud.
But this blog is titled “Unity”, not the transfer of power.
Some of President Biden’s words were “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire” and “Disagreement should not lead to disunion.” Unfortunately, politics does remain a raging fire, regardless of which party is in power. But my focus here is not politics, but teams and corporate cultures. The second statement is the one I want us to hang on to because it is one of the elements of high-performance teams: “Disagreement should not lead to disunion.”
Some people believe that you can’t have unity if you have a disagreement. I believe the unity that comes out of trusting and respecting disagreement is the most powerful unity that you can experience. From our ancient philosophers, we find that the idea of truth, love, beauty, and unity is the highest level of happiness. I use these four concepts to help teams bring about unity from disagreement.
I’m not talking about truth being the opposite of lies. I’m talking about what you know and have experienced as your truth. I often marvel at the concept that there are no two snowflakes exactly alike. I would put forth the premise that there are no two human beings that are exactly alike.
I’m one of four siblings in my family. We all had the same father and mother. We all lived in the same house for most of our lives. We all grew up in the same small town for most of our lives. I say “most of our lives” because my father died when my youngest sister was still in her teens which altered her life a great deal. But what I have found very fascinating through our adult years is how the “truth” of those formative years was so different for each of us. I remember one discussion between myself and my siblings as adults when I finally said “Who are you talking about?” They said “Our father”. My reaction was, “That’s not the father I knew or grew up with”. Even how we ranked from youngest to oldest changed how we experienced our parents.
In order to build a strong unity, we must share with each other what we see as the truth of the situation. Both of my daughters and all four of my grandchildren have lived overseas. They have experienced different “truths”. I believe this will serve them well through life.
I’ve told this story before but it’s very powerful for me. During my consulting years, I almost always conducted a session with each team that I called “Human Beings, not Human Doings”. In these sessions, participants were asked to share about someone or some event that they know profoundly affected their lives and values. We never made it through a single session without tears flowing.
Knowing each other’s experiences, values, and truths, is the first very powerful step towards unity.
The second of the unity elements was termed “love” by the Ancients. Unfortunately, that word loses something in the translation and how we think of it today. In the Greek Language which most of these ancients spoke, they have at least four words (I’ve seen as many as six) that all get translated into the word love in English. Our English is very limiting.
- Philia – deep friendship. The city of Philadelphia is based on this word.
- Eros – sexual passion. We get the word erotica from Eros.
- Philautia – love of the self. We would translate this word as narcissism — self-obsessed and focused.
- Agape – love for everyone.
Agape is the word for love that I associate with teams. I often used the word “respect” to convey this idea. Do we show respect for the other person regardless of their “truth” being in alignment with ours or not? Do we listen with the intent to understand? We didn’t have the same experiences as the other person. We must listen with a willingness to learn and understand about the background that would bring them to their truth. Only then can we begin to develop true and powerful unity.
This is another word that’s difficult to understand in the business context. We’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That makes beauty unique to each individual. I don’t think that works well with teams.
I’ve come to think of beauty as elegance. One definition is being pleasingly ingenious and simple. I think this definition works well with teams. Ingenuity or innovation is a very strong skill in high-performance teams. Although sometimes it seems counter-intuitive, simplicity is also a strong point for high-performance teams. Adding complexity and complications to projects or decision making is not a trait in high-performance teams.
Unity can be a hard thing to detect at times. Especially if a team is good at working through their differences. What does make unity visible is commitment. When every member of a team shows commitment to decisions made, even if they personally see things differently, that’s unity. Each member has to carefully demonstrate the commitment. For others to hear the words “Well, I don’t agree with it but that’s what we decided as a team” is not unity. But when people know that while we may have initially disagreed with the results and yet see full commitment on our part, they know that we’re committed to the team and the team’s decisions.
Truth, Love, Beauty, Unity
Truth, Respect, Elegance, Commitment
These are the elements of unity. Check your own attitude and the behavior of others with each element. Building high-performance teams require putting all of the elements in place.