By Scott Westerman

Scott Westerman“It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

Early on in my career, I had responsibility for two senior leaders who could not get along. They both had the same objectives: Serving our customers, their fellow employees and our investors. But they had radically different ideas about how to do it and were constantly trying to undermine one-another’s effectiveness.

When it got so bad that my boss and their front line employees started sending me notes about it, I pulled them both into the office and said something like this:

“I like you both. You both have the skills to be successful in what you do. You obviously have great track records or you would not have advanced this far in the company. But the fact that you can’t get along is starting to hurt the enterprise.

“We have two choices: You can find a way to work effectively together to achieve our combined objectives, or I can replace you both and start fresh with two other people who can get the job done without attacking one another. Understand this clearly – If you can’t work well together, you are both gone. It’s not a question of who is more important to the company, who has the larger team, or who generates more revenue.

“We’re building a team who want’s to work together. That involves planning, improvisation and creativity. But it also requires collaboration, compromise and respect for everybody who works here. You are not modeling that behavior. You have one week to work together to create a plan on how you will fix this relationship. I’ll support whatever you jointly decide to do.

“But know this: if you can’t work together to improve our situation, you will not work here at all.”

It was an uncomfortable week but I got their plan. They stumbled along the way to executing it. There were moments when they had to improvise on the spot, to give a little to get a little. Ultimately they did execute. They were both eventually promoted and are still successful in serving their teams and their peers to this day.

If you are currently feeling like one of these two people, you have your own choices to make: Change what you can, accept what you can’t change or remove yourself from the unacceptable.

I encourage you to work to collaborate. The best solutions often involve sacrifice on all sides and require a long term commitment to realize.

But if the situation is too toxic, make a change.

If you are a leader with team members that don’t play well in the sandbox, think carefully. Is there one particular individual who is poisoning the bus and needs to be thrown off it? Or is it a chemistry issue among several team members requiring some tough love?

Customers and voters, are the ultimate leaders. They choose the team that will serve them and create jobs in the process. And the can fire you if you’re not getting things done.

The undercurrent that always motivated my business decisions was the realization that my team members and my customers had a choice of whether or not they wanted to support my vision. There were always competitors for their dollars and talents out there, and if I didn’t deliver, I lost.

One of the things we tend to forget about in our current “blame the other guy” environment is that we are ultimately responsible for our situation. We can blame Amazon, Walmart, the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’re the ones who put them in the driver’s seat. We all collaborated, either by action or inaction to place ourselves smack dab where we are right now.

If you are concerned about the issues that face your company, your family, your community or our nation, you must be a catalyst for collaboration. Demand that people “meet you half way” and be willing to give a little to get a little.

Abdicating personal responsibility for your future is not an option. And doing nothing is a decision, too. As one anonymous smart person once said, “Standing on the sidelines and complaining without engaging to make a difference is the ultimate in cowardice.”

So jump into the game, engage, commit, create, improvise.. and Collaborate.

Good fortune gravitates to the team that adds the most value. If you don’t take control of your future, someone else will.

Have a great week!


Scott Westerman has been a broadcaster, cable television executive and entrepreneur. In 2010 he joined the MSU Alumni Association as Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations & Executive Director. He is a 1978 graduate of Michigan State University. 

This blog post was originally featured on http://www.scottwesterman.com and has been used by the author’s permission.

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