My family and I are on a vacation and field trip to Washington, D.C. this week. Because we home school our boys, this is a tremendous way to combine vacation and education. Here, we are able to learn about the foundation and history of our government while seeing the actual system in operation. The division of powers and unique form of representative democracy are ingenious in many ways.
One of the first things we did was to visit the new Capitol Visitor’s Center, tour the capitol building, and observe proceedings in the Senate chamber. Watching debate among the senators was an interesting experience. (Take a look at Tuesday’s news about FEMA funding.) I am thankful this is not the style and tone adopted by most business leaders in their daily work. However, the two-party system comprised of men and women elected by the citizens of our country are indicative of an important principle woven into the fabric of our culture: E Pluribus Unum.
This Latin phrase is found on the Seal of the United States, has been on most coins since 1786, and is found on most of our paper currency. The phrase means “out of many, one.” Originally, this reflected the formation of the nation out of 13 colony states. In recent years, the phrase has also called to mind the great diversity of our people’s races, cultures, and religions.
Recently, my friend Greg, a co-author of this blog, published an article, What’s So Great About Diversity? Greg offered several points in support of organizational diversity: a wider market, more innovation, better decisions, organizational learning, and global networking. I’m sure we could brainstorm a long list of additional benefits.
I agree with the essence of e pluribus unum and I concur with the ideas and arguments in Greg’s post. However, in many organizations, and in our country today, we are doing a poor job with the unum, the “one” aspect. Leaders today do a good job recognizing and embracing the diversity of their employees. Accommodations are made to facilitate various religious and cultural expressions. Language gaps are bridged in a variety of ways. Family traditions are recognized in company celebrations and outings. Innovative perspectives, born out of diverse cultural heritage, are leveraged to solve tough organizational problems. These are all good, but it seems we are missing the unum result.
What I see in organizations today, and in our country, is that the support and pursuit of diversity (a good thing) is not bringing people together. Leaders are doing well in their efforts to value individuals’ unique contributions. They are doing a poor job of integrating the same individuals into a united whole.
Some of the fault falls on individuals who see their personal perspectives and needs as supreme to the organization (or the country). They are not. Balance is required. As individuals we need to ask “How can my experiences and culture contribute to the success of this organization (or country)?” It is also the responsibility of leaders, though, to help individuals understand the importance balancing individual needs and contributions with organizational (and country) needs and results.
Take a moment to assess various organizational problems you are facing. To what degree are these conflicts rooted in, or at least influenced by, lack of organizational unity. Has the e pluribus supplanted the unum?