Creating a WE vs. ME Workplace

“The power of an organization is the capacity generated by
relationships. Positive or negative organizational energy is determined
by the quality of relationships. Those who relate through coercion, or
in disregard of others, create negative energy. Those who are open to
others and who see others in their fullness create positive energy.”
    Margaret Wheatley, Leadership from the New Science

Do you work in a WE or a ME centered workplace?

For most of you the answer will be a ME workplace.

What’s the difference – and why does it matter?

ME or I centered workplaces are still the norm. They are characterized by cultures that are high on fear and
low on trust.  People don’t feel or believe they can speak honestly and
contribute ideas and opinions freely.  Organizations preach teams but
many team members operate as lone wolves.

 In ME based workplaces, employees feel they have to protect turf,
leaders are perceived as ineffectual or autocratic and self-protection
is the dominant feeling.  Anxiety, frustration and resentment are the
common emotions found in ME centered workplaces.

WE focused workplaces bring
out the best in their employees – at every level.  WE centric leaders
are characterized by caring, courage and vision and to use the old
expression, walk the talk.  Environments that foster WE centered
behaviors encourage diversity of thought and expression of feeling. They
encourage risk-taking and tolerate “failure.”  WE cultures support
sharing and discourage territoriality. They are dedicated to fairness
and the achievement of the full potential within everyone.  Confidence,
passion and satisfaction are the common emotions found in a WE centered


Despite decades of discussions and program implementation of
leadership and team building, the consensus is that most workplaces are
still not healthy, vibrant relationship building systems. In fact, many
are downright toxic.

There are many reasons for this.  The “legacy” of top – down, command
and control thinking and management still prevails in most
organizations.  Fear is the dominant emotional driver in too many
workplaces.  Most organizations still don’t understand and factor in the
human equation in terms of policies and practices.  Communication and emotional intelligence are
still relegated to the territory of “soft skills” and are often not
considered as essential job requirements. In fact, too many business
pundits still question their validity in the business environment!

Most organizations are either clueless about the impact of power
dynamics or just don’t care.  Unhealthy competition, gossip and
positional power struggles are often the result. 

Lack of organizational trust and transparency is growing. Even
employees, who like their jobs or their managers, often report they
don’t trust their company or its leaders.

Economic and societal pressures always exacerbate individual, group
and organizational systems and often reveal the weaknesses that are
concealed during “rosier” times.


It’s easy to find a list of the cultural forces and organizational
factors that contribute to Me based workplaces.  Many people feel
trapped within organizations and teams that are completely out of step
with their values.  They want more collaboration, trust and partnership
in their workplace relationships and aren’t interested in engaging in
power plays.

But regardless of the influence of structural norms and hierarchical
influences within a workplace, every person has a critically important
role to play in creating more WE focused work environments.

What WE bring to the table matters.  Cultures are
important but they are merely the aggregate of mindsets.  Creating more
WE based cultures, depends on each and every one of us getting far
better at two critical competencies of emotional intelligence – self
awareness and self-reflection.  While blame is common in ME centered
workplaces, self-responsibility and self- management are the
cornerstones of WE based cultures.  

This is not to say the actions of the organization or institution in
which WE operate are not important, but ultimately WE have a choice in
how to respond.  WE focused cultures cannot flourish unless there is
accountability at all levels of responsibility.


“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in
widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them
by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that
fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day a lab assistant
lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in
the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered
with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This
previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi,
allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or
unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our
mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons
create an instant sense of shared experience
.” Social Neuroscience & the Biology of Leadership

See, what you do matters. What they do matters. There is nothing
“woo-woo” about emotional contagion. It’s real. Emotions, whatever they
are, spread. Leaders who lead with fear (whether they are consciously
aware of it or not) spread fear. Leaders who lead with empathy – spread
empathy.  Empathy is the ultimate contributor to building WE based

The latest neuroscience has powerful implications for the ways in
which we organize our workplaces, our schools, our families and our
societies.  Our brains work on an organizing principle with two primary
tasks – minimize threat and maximize reward

The need for status (recognition), certainty (safety), autonomy
(self-mastery), relatedness (affiliation, love) and fairness are either
satisfied or frustrated by WE or ME cultures.

The latest scientific findings clearly show that social needs are as
important to WE humans as the need for food and water!  Our brains are
wired to work within the social context of community.  


Developing the WE factor inside of us takes work. It’s easy (for most
of us) to jump into the ME vs. YOU pool. Our entire culture is
organized to support that. WE isn’t popular. Oh yes, we teach our
kiddies to share their toys and not whack little Jacob with a baseball bat, but as a culture we are still modeling aggression, attack and ruthless competition as our primary values.

So building our WE behaviors can take vigilance and practice. Here are some of the basics:

  • New Belief Systems
    we live by our beliefs (some are conscious and most are not) We have
    dozens that govern the way we relate to our own feelings, those of
    others, behave in relationships (inside the workplace and outside of it)
    and treat other people. Unless we make a determined effort to unearth
    our deepest beliefs, we cannot change our behaviors.
  • Value Your Values
    – Everyone has values. WE refer to them, but often we don’t really know
    them or live by them. Unless you honor your own values, you can’t
    possibly understand or respect those of others. WE centric cultures use
    values as a guiding force.
  • Know Your Needs
    – Most people can’t really name their needs. We’re not talking about
    food or water here – but needs that relate to our social interdependence
    with others.  Identifying your needs is central to understanding your
    values and beliefs. They are the drivers.
  • Evaluate your Communication Strengths – and Weaknesses
    If you are too aggressive, commit to learning how to express yourself
    in a more assertive style. There is a huge difference in the eye and ear
    of the beholder.
  • Get your Assumptions, Judgments and Expectations of others under control.
    They’ll reflect your beliefs and values – so make the connections. This
    is important because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and
    others by their behaviors.

 Whether we live and work in ME or WE cultures depends a great deal
on US.  Each time we interact with someone in the workplace (and outside
of it) we make a deposit or withdrawal into the Bank of WE or ME.  The
problem in most workplaces is that the bank is overdrawn. All of the big
and little daily interactions have drained the coffers.  So how each of
us acts now, will decide the cultures of the future.

As always we value your COMMENTS.

What are your thoughts about the concept of WE and ME workplaces?

What contributions can you make to creating more collaboration and real community in the workplace?

What beliefs do you think hold us back from working with more respect for mutual interests and needs?

Thanks for being part of the conversation.

Louise & George Altman, Intentional Communication Partners

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