Unity, Discord, and the Reality of Human Nature

If it is in fact true that organizational performance rises with growing levels of agreement, collaboration, reciprocity and shared vision, why do leaders accept significant (and largely avoidable) costs of disunity? 

Much has to do with widespread below-the-line beliefs that disunity is just the way things are.

“It’s human nature,” clients have again and again suggested in our consulting work, unwittingly giving voice to bedrock assumptions about the human condition. “People fight. They gossip. They clash. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

Unity, in this view, goes against fundamental realities of psychological makeup.

But is this true? Is disunity an inescapable feature of human nature?

It’s certainly true that disunity is not lacking in the workplace. It can be seen everywhere. Most of us have lived a lifetime in its churning waters.

Yet highly unified organizations do exist in the world, organizations in which collaboration, mutual assistance, and commonality of vision are the norm, not the exception.

And the fact that their facilities can be visited, their processes studied and documented, suggests that disunity is not an immutable law of nature, like gravity. Rather, it a choice organizations make – even if only implicitly and unconsciously – and is therefore one they can choose to not make.

Imagine an organization in which departments go out of their way to help one another. An organization in which all individuals make a point of placing the welfare of the whole organization above their personal concerns. An organization in which the success of any one person, office, or division is celebrated as the success of all.

Such organizations can be found. They may be  rare. They may be challenging to create. But the fact that they exist at all – and that their culture stems from connscious, concerted, and sustained effort, as opposed to the happy accident of circumstance – stands as testament to the fact that disunity and discord are not inescapable facts of life.

The unity organizations can establish if they make it a priority is far more than what many leaders believe is possible. A key question facing all leaders, then, is the degree to which they are prepared to make organizational unity an explicit and operational priority.

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