High Performing Teams and George Orwell

Orwell’s press card, 1943

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. This quote has been attributed to George Orwell, the English novelist and opponent of totalitarianism. With everything from “fake news” to rampant leaks in politics, it seems we live in a time of universal deceit… maybe not exactly what George was referring to, but certainly just as concerning.

I facilitated a High Performing Teams workshop recently and we were discussing how conflict in an environment of trust is an important part of developing a high performing team. Mark, one of the attendees, brought up how at one of his clients, the environment is rife with middle level executives looking over their shoulders, competing with one another, double-checking each other’s work and generally sniping at each other. Mark observed how this toxic environment brings out the worst in people. I was reminded of George Orwell: if universal deceit is the norm, then everyone loses… even those telling the truth.

We spent some time working through how Mark could remain ethical; honest, authentic and conscientious, in such an environment. We decided it was bloody difficult and unless there was change at the top, things were unlikely to change.

So how to build a high performing team in this environment? We agreed that like a cloistered schoolyard or as a cult, we need to make our team self sufficient and abide by our rules and our values and ignore the external noise. If that allows us to be successful in our small part of the organisation, maybe news of our success will filter out and others will get wind of it and ask, “how do they do that?”… and the word spreads… in other words, isolate the team into an environment where it’s not a time of universal deceit, and from that place build a better microcosm, a better version, of the organisation.

Mark looked at me doubtfully but said he’d give it a try… watch this space…

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