When Your Family, Team, or Group Keeps Getting Divided


Dang!  Things come apart so easily. For example(s):

  • A staff member keeps creating conflict with you or others.  
  • Your boss seems like she came from a different planet; she never smiles, and that’s not funny. 
  • One of your kids is a challenge-a-minute. 
  • The back office is a constant source of frustration. 

The possibilities for division, disagreement, and conflict are endless!!!

Such divisions are frustrating to no end.  And this extraordinary rhetorical question from Peter Senge captures the equally important and  all-too-common result

“How can a team of committed managers with individual IQs above 120 have a collective IQ of 63?”

How?  Well, what is our most common expression, when we are on one side of division – as we were pitted against our parents, an adolescent child, a know-it-all staff member, the skeptical old-timer, the Republicans or the Democrats, our spouse, or any of the other variants of “them?”  Isn’t it “they just don’t get it?!!!” Or, in our adolescent words, “they’re stupid.” In more politically correct words, “they are ignorant.”  We can rationally see that they are probably saying the exact same thing about us.  But our ego in its relentless need for correctness generally doesn’t see that.  Nor do we reach Senge’s brilliant insight about how our “collective IQ” plummets when individuals don’t see others’ points of view.  But consider:  one smart spouse (or boss) who sees one thing, and another who sees something different, will frequently confuse their kids or make their staff look stupid, as the ones in charge send their followers looking in totally different directions.  Perhaps you read Senge’s 1994 classic The Fifth Discipline but have forgotten the “disciplines,” and just which one was “the fifth” discipline, for which the book was named.  Here it is:

 The discipline of team learning confronts this paradox [in which the collective IQ falls far short of the average].”

So, where you are confronting division – with kids, spouse, parishioners, work, boss, etc. — I propose a simple swap:

Trade in the conviction “s/he doesn’t get it!” in exchange for the question “What does s/he get, that I may just not be getting?”  Trade in “either she’s right or I am,” for “both she is seeing part of the issue and I’m seeing part of it.”  Ask that teen (which you once were), that staff person, your rival or nemesis if you can begin an experiment in which — instead of trying to convince each other of your viewpoint — you try to hear the other’s, and have them hear you.  Unless there’s an urgency, forego resolution and finality for a while.  In the experiment, simply ask them to repeat what it is they think you are saying, and the value in it; it doesn’t mean they must commit to your being right or their taking any action.  And BEGIN by asking if you can go first to understand them, saying back to them what you think they are saying, so that you can be sure you understand and appreciate their viewpoint.

Through the intentional discipline of “getting” those who you think “just don’t get it,” you can begin to create a learning organization that’s as smart — or even smarter — than the average, or even the sum, of its constituent parts.

As a leader, you go first, and seek first to understand, as you:

Lead with your best self!


  • Another keeper, Dan. It’s akin to the positive that can be accomplished with the practice of re-statement: do I have this right, this is what I think I hear you saying . . .

    Keep up your good work in the world.

  • A very appropriate and challenging way to approach our differences! Being able to “hear” one another, whether in business, or in our personal lives is the greatest daily challenge!

    Thank you for putting it so gracefully as I will be taking this to our staff meeting today to share with our staff and hope that it will begin the process of each one of us hearing one another more clearly!

  • In general, once a group grows larger than 150, its members begin to lose their sense of connection. In smaller groups, people are a lot closer. If your group gets too large, you don’t have enough things in common, you start to become strangers and that close-knit fellowship starts to get lost.

    We can only handle so much information at once. Partly its a question of time and energy. Caring about someone deeply is exhausting. When your group gets too large, the possibilities for division, disagreement, and conflict become endless.

    • John,
      You always add interesting insights.
      Although getting above 150 is certainly a hurdle, the question of division exists at even the most micro-level. A couple. A father and son. A boss and a worker.
      In some ways these can be even more complicated!

  • Thanks for this excellent reminder of how to operate with our best self, Dan. Right on target, and it also reminded me of the very special value that Peter Senge brought into all our lives. Keep your good advice coming – it helps us all to try to be better at building teams.

  • Thanks Dan. Yet another of your great articles. i almost felt like you were talking to my situation with my daughter. I am goind to put your wisdom to use right away..Tonight.
    Keep it up!

  • Thanks for addressing this common conflict in most every area of life. Accepting the other point of view when I know I am VERY right is challenging. Your tips for patient, understanding and working at a common ground are right on. Thanks, Dan.

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