At some people’s request, I am revising an old Daily Thoughts on ‘solidarity’ in the work place.
Solidarity is one of those terms that can be used in many ways. It often brings a connotation of sympathy, such as solidarity with people affected with recent floods. Or an aspect of unity under threat, such as the 80’s Solidarity movement in Poland.
In traditional Catholic Social Teaching ( a powerful set of loosely connected positions on social matters, solid, I insist, regardless your religious beliefs), solidarity is about ‘valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are as individuals’, the website says. The same website, that is, in which some missing-the-point-completely webmaster has attached a picture of two high level bishops, a Catholic and an Anglican in forced ‘high five’, to the box of the definition of solidarity. I confess my embarrassment as a Catholic. A Catholic and an Anglican bishop in ‘high five’ mode is the least that comes to my mind on this topic. I bring in the Catholic connotation because my original post about 2 years ago was triggered by an invitation to speak at a Catholic forum and that forced me to imagine that ‘solidarity in action’.
Years later, it seems to me more pertinent than ever to go back to imagine a workplace where all those elements of unity, empathy, collaboration, cohesion and everything else in the thesaurus dictionary, could be at the core of culture. Yet, I don’t find many places (business organizations) where the term sits prominently in a value system, let’s say, compared with empowerment, ownership or accountability.
My hypothesis is that this is because those empowerment, ownership and accountability are ‘things given to you’ ( and taken or not), that is top-down created, whilst solidarity is something that is not given to you, it is created by you and others, collectively, bottom up. And most of value systems are dictated at the top and cascaded.
In any case, I am convinced that solidarity has more glue power than anything else.
In my previous, old Daily Thought I imagined what a ‘culture of solidarity ‘may look like:
- There will be a strong sense of interdependence in the place. This is contrary to a culture of Social Darwinism, with excessive internal competition. ‘My safety is your safety’ or ‘my success is your success’, for example, would be wonderful examples of this achievement.
- It will require a great deal of Social Intelligence: listening, putting oneself in other people’s shoes. Something organizations desperately need and that has become a topic of much conversation in recent years.
- It will engender a sense of ‘the collective’. Suddenly, questions such as ‘who needs to know?’ and the subsequent action and sharing, will make real sense.
- It will spread a sense of accountability and responsibility. You need to know what you and others are responsible for, to be able to contribute. Vagueness will not be supported.
- It will also create awareness of the impact of my actions (of my work with others) on individual and collective commitments.
- It will foster genuine cooperation, beyond connectedness. Connectivity per se is not collaboration.
- It will go far beyond a defensive attitude (I can be hurt, I am likely to be a victim) to reach the proactive ‘we are all agents (of our destiny) here’.
- It won’t feel like ‘theory’ or just good works. It will be action (the word activism contains the word act).
- It will require authentic leadership that supports all of the above.
- It will generate trust. Vulnerability is OK—‘I won’t be punished, we are all in this together’.
So there you are. Solidarity may be the above package; far more than people with placards. ‘We are all Charlie’ is a show of sympathy. ‘We are all in this together, we depend on each other, and we act collectively, without organization chart barriers’, may be the expression window of a ‘solidarity culture’.
If you have one of this, you have a community, not a company. And this, believe me, it’s not bad at all.
Or should I say, tremendous, it is tremendous. #tremendous.
One thing that doesn’t quite fit here, for me at least, is the definition: “valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are AS INDIVIDUALS”.
It seems to me that solidarity, as described in the rest of the article, is about (temporarily and partially) suspending one’s own focus on individuality, and focusing more on acting as part of a common tribe with the other members of your group. That’s when you get people making sacrifices and taking risks for the good of the whole group, and treating the others with the empathy that you might reserve for family members. Of course, that requires mutual respect, and that requires seeing the others as individuals and not as members of some other tribe. But solidarity is fundamentally not about individuality — rather the opposite.
So if you want to promote this powerful force, things that promote bonding as a tribe are the key. A common enemy will do — ideally not the boss — or a common set of values, or just getting to know one another better over shared pizza and beer. Setting an example of including and reaching out to the marginal members of the group — the oddballs and loners — can also be very powerful.