The danger of detachment

Events in the world have been more frustrating than usual for a while. I hadn’t managed to put a finger on what’s different, until recently. Some people would say “it’s the left“. Others will claim “it’s the right“. While the reality is a mix of both, that’s not what I’m referring to. Some would suggest that “it seems worse than it used to be” and that most of that is because we’re far more aware of things than we were in the past. Of course, this comes thanks to changes in how news is distributed – and how quickly. Also true. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to something that crosses over – affecting politics, business and much more. It’s detachment.

What’s a “frustrating” event? I’m talking about recurring, widespread activities that you might find aggravating, disgusting, dishonest, unethical (the usual “winner”), etc. As I dig deeper, I’ve become convinced that detachment is at the root of a lot of problems. 

What about detachment is a problem?

Detachment acts as insulation. It creates distance between people. It’s particularly good at creating distance between groups. By distance, I mean  a weaker relationship or no relationship at all. Less understanding. Less intimacy – not romance-wise, but a lower level of comfort.

Think about a flood on the other side of the world in a country you’ve never visited. Many people probably lost their homes and everything they own. While it’s a shame and you feel bad for them when you see the video of what’s going on, the reality is that it doesn’t affect you all that much. Most people will move on. Life’s chasing them around. Right here, right now.

When the distance shrinks

The situation changes when the affected people are family, friends or co-workers.

Imagine that flooded home belongs to one of your employees or a family member. Your perspective changes. Now it isn’t about people you’ll never know in a place you’ll may never be. You know them, their kids and you’re a part of each other’s lives. You aren’t detached because you have a relationship with that person and possibly their family. Moving on will take a while. Perhaps a long while, even if they work at your Houston office rather than south of Bangalore.

That’s how detachment insulates us. 

Insulation equals distance

When you know the people involved, your detachment may not be eliminated, but it’s reduced significantly because the situation affects people you know and/or work with. 

To get right down to it, detachment (like distance) gives us “permission” not to care as much, or at all. Not everyone uses that permission, but many do. In some cases, it gives people permission to care so little that the other person / group can eventually be positioned as our enemy. 

Even if we work for the same company. Sometimes,  even though we’re part of the same family. 

Again: The insulation of detachment gives us permission to care less, or not care at all, even about family members or co-workers. 

This detachment is especially dangerous when you have remote employees because it can work both ways. The distance can help them become detached from you and while you simultaneously become detached from them. 

It can kill a company’s culture, particularly one with remote workers or multiple locations. 

Detachment dehumanizes

The worst feature of detachment is that it dehumanizes the people we work with and the customers we serve. 

Ever heard anyone talk in dehumanizing terms about an opponent, a competitor, or someone with different political differences? Sure you have. “Animal” is a common term you’ll hear, but there are numerous terms that can do the trick. All you have to do is pick a word that you’d (hopefully) never call them to their face if they were a family member, customer or co-worker. These terms let us position other people and other groups as if they’re something to be discarded like trash.

That’s what dehumanizing them allows.

Detachment induced dehumanization can have effects that are much worse. We see it every day, but may not recognize it for what it is. 

Exterminate it.

I’ve seen so much of it, even in business, that I am convinced that it’s essential to exterminate it. Take aggressive steps to identify and destroy it. It’s that dangerous to your business. 

Culture defines who has your team’s back

How tight is your staff? What’s the culture of the team? Do they trust one another? Do they trust you? Do your employees know you have their back? Do they know their peers have their back?

Can everyone on your team depend on the processes, systems and people involved in your business? If you said yes, does every single person agree?

If you haven’t asked, don’t assume the answer is yes.

How well do they jell?

Ask your team about the qualities of the people they want to work with. Use their answers during your hiring process. You can’t allow even the smartest, best qualified prospect to join your team if they’ll create cultural conflict.

A few more questions to ask your team:

  • Is there anyone whose call you don’t want to answer? Ask them to think about why they wouldn’t answer.
  • Is there anyone whose call you will always take? Ask them to think about why they’d always answer.
  • Is there anyone on the team who makes you wonder “Why does management keep that person around?
  • Is there information about the business that you don’t have that’s preventing you from doing your job to the best of your ability?
  • If you’re responsible for local sales, do you know what parts of town yield the most profit?

Those last two questions are a clue about the information your team needs to become more effective. It’s not always about the obvious things.

Team members who are ready to grow into more responsibility will start asking (if not only wondering to themselves) if the work they’re being asked to do is turning a profit for the business. It’s critical to complete the circle of communications to your team about sales and profitability. When employees show concern about these things, feed that fire. It’s a sign that they’ve matured beyond taking home a check and are interested in growing their impact on profit.

These things contribute to your culture

While some businesses will hand wave away their culture as a meaningless foofoo thing, culture is what glues your team together. It defines how well they work together every day (or not) and that goes directly to how well they treat your clientele.

It’s essential that you use your culture as a filter for deciding who has the privilege of joining your team.

If you don’t, you’ll likely lose people who are very difficult to replace because they’ll see right through the “culture is important, employees are important” statements you might make.

To be a place where people want to work, these things matter.
To be a business people want to do business with, these things matter.

What doesn’t kill you…

I had an annual meeting conversation with a team this weekend. They’ve been to hell and back over the last year, business-wise. The ones who survived the worst part and stuck around have learned to depend on each other and expect great things of one another every day. They understand the importance of defending one another, covering for one another and expecting the best from everyone as the work together. They understand what’s important, what’s not and that they have to stick together and continue to work together or they will certainly die (employment-wise) separately.

While I won’t mention what business they’re in, I wouldn’t suggest taking them on. After listening to them and speaking with them, it’s clear they’d take punishment for one another. Best of all, they understand that the best culture in the world doesn’t mean much if profitable sales, consistent delivery and service don’t happen. It takes all of these things.

And that’s important because?

I mention this because a trial by fire will either destroy your team or bond it like few other experiences. The differences between teams that get destroyed and the ones that bond include your leadership as an owner, the team’s leadership (implicit and explicit), who makes up your team and what they’re made of. These things define your team’s culture because it defines who they are.

Which team do you lead? Do you know where the strengths and weaknesses are? Are you willing to investing in the proper hiring, training and communication to build your team into one that can take a punch?