Every sportsperson knows that beyond the weekend hacker level, no matter how solo your sport “looks”, there is a team seeing you through to victory. My favourite sport is tennis, and within that, singles. It’s like a chess game, played both mentally and physically. Beyond the supreme physicality and skill of the game itself, there is the intensity of a full-blown campaign in every tournament.
The players are in the spotlight for between 2 and 5 hours as exquisite solo practitioners of their art, and they win or lose on their own two legs in the arena. Their execution of strategy, and adapting to their opponents. Their fitness, their resilience and their mental fortitude. But when they arrive on court, they leave in the shadows a vast army of team members. Team members whose sole challenge it is to both prepare the athlete for their coming challenge, and, afterwards, to undo the physical damage of the last one. Nutritionists, physiotherapists, coaches, trainers, bio-kineticists, are all there, working magic behind the scenes. And we are in awe of the athlete, match after match and then especially when he or she stands victorious.
Could any of them achieve even 50%, 30%, maybe even 10% of what they do, without those key practitioners working their magic behind the scenes? Probably not. Singles it may be on the court, but it is not singles off the court.
There is a Dragon called “Solo” and he is beaten by the protagonist wearing the Cloak of Cameraderie.
Cameraderie is the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood forged through shared trial. In the military, I did something in training to be an officer, called “Vasbyt” which is loosely translated as “Endure”, or “Hold on tight”. A 150km route march over 3 days, with full pack and rifles, carrying telegraph poles and anything else our corporal could think of for us to carry. Tyres, rocks, each other. You name it. We learned, in no uncertain terms, that you do it together, or you fail. When that finished, the 20 or so of us in our platoon looked at each other, standing in a circle on that dusty field with rubbery legs, arm in arm, and we were comrades. We had carried each other, and each other’s packs and weapons, for 150kms, and we had got there together. There is no feeling like it.
We HR Practitioners share a strange existence, in that many of us are solo practitioners or are alone at our level in an organisation. We do a lot, alone. And that is the way of things, but it has risks. There are things we can easily do alone, and other things, that owing to their nature, are better done in consultation with others. And when we are ourselves embroiled in a matter, there is no better safeguard than another person in our corner with an eye for detail.
This is primarily for two reasons – perspective, and protection. As much as we think we are seeing things correctly, we need to acknowledge that we are subjective beings with perceptive flaws. Tests have shown that two people standing next to each other can see the same traffic accident, from the same angle, and still report wildly different versions of what happened. Corporately we can experience the same cognitive disparity as a result of our preconceptions, our expectations, and our loyalties. And when we are assessing or navigating some issue that our own credibility depends on, perhaps even our job, we would be wise to acknowledge that we may not be seeing things accurately.
There is a saying in legal circles “An attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client”. It is regarded as stupid, in the extreme, to attempt to be your own advocate in a court of law, because the stakes are so high for us personally that we are incapable of rational, objective and analytical thought. Emotions run too high, and the self-preservation instinct runs too deep, to be good at that kind of conflict. There is no good reason to think it should be different elsewhere.
So having another perspective assists is to keep things clear and to correctly discern the real issues without getting sidetracked by subjectivity.
Secondly, having an independent person who knows what is going on, especially where issues are challenging or controversial, is a very sound backup strategy which can in a crunch, provide perspective in advance and then afterwards, strong support for how and why something was handled in a particular way. That second perspective helps us plan better, analyse better, predict better and execute better. it also helps us moderate better and choose wiser words, helping us enter into and manage conflict in a way which keeps the doors open for reconciliation afterwards.
Accountability is tough for the person relied on – make sure they are willing and able to shoulder the load.
An important rider here: Cameraderie is about strength, encouragement, wisdom and perspective. It is a good thing, even, for some, a sacred and honourable thing. Cameraderie is not, repeat NOT, about stirring up issues, spreading gossip, undermining another person’s standing, sowing discord or distrust, seeking out slander or politicking ones way through a problem. Absolutely, absoLUTEly not.
These behaviours are evidence of a sick, sick culture within an office, and as HR practitioners, even with our own careers on the line, we should be distancing ourselves as much as possible from such destructive behaviours. If they are being used against us, I believe with all my heart we have what we need. I have discussed three of them already – The Sword of Knowledge, the Shield of Slightly Cynical Wisdom, and now the Cloak of Cameraderie. But there are more.