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From ME to WE and back: How companies can overcome the fear of losing control

Loss of control is a feeling that most people have probably had to deal with in recent months. With regard to an invisibly rampant virus anyway, but also to what has happened in their work environment. And not just since the pandemic. The fear of losing control is tightly interwoven with the digital transformation of companies. Where old structures and positions are called into question, where suddenly everyone has and is expected to have an opinion and participate in decision-making processes, where employees are encouraged to take responsibility for determining their next development steps and, if they are interested, can get involved in projects outside their department, this creates uncertainty and stress for many people, especially in (former) middle management: Can my team members suddenly just withdraw themselves to learn something new or take part in projects that they are interested in? Can anyone in the company just access MY team at will? Can they use MY pool of resources without asking? And can I still achieve MY goals?

The pyramid causes fear of loss

The capital letters imply: the loss of control is fed to a large extent by the ego of managers. And to prevent any misunderstandings: A pronounced ego is not fundamentally bad. In fact, a certain amount of self-centeredness is good and important for communities to function. However, it becomes problematic when a company is built on the egos of a few people, as is often the case in pyramid structures. Because there is only room for a few at the top of a pyramid, and to get there, employees have to learn early on to use their elbows. Accordingly, the pyramid produces lone warriors and competitors. Anyone who doesn’t go along with the system and questions it, anyone who puts out feelers into the company outside of his or her assigned job description, anyone who “exceeds his or her competencies,” as one might say, is considered disturbing. But it is precisely these troublemakers who are now in demand! Employees who see the big picture, strive for real responsibility instead of mere power, and courageously break new ground.

Giving up control – is a good thing!

More and more organizations are recognizing this and focusing increasingly on collaboration rather than competition – and accordingly on giving up control. Because if employees can work across departments, apply for projects or job shadowing on their own initiative, become mentors, or onboarding buddies for new colleagues, how much capacity do individual team members still have for their core area? – The question is justified. And it cannot be solved with a simple formula. Because the loss of control is real, and it is necessary to form new types of organizations. It is not helpful to fight against it or block this development. The most important tools to confront it are self-reflection and the formation of a different mindset, coupled with new and transparent forms of collaboration. This is how managers are most likely to take the leap from an “ego-system” to an “eco-system,” as Louka Goetzke and Ronja Lamberty have written so beautifully in the “Neue Narrative” magazine. They are referring to MIT professor Otto Scharner. In the ecosystem he formulated, each individual feels responsible for the well-being of society. The focus is on the common good. According to Scharner, this requires an “opening of the heart, mind, and will.” So by consciously questioning their thought patterns, managers can gain a new perspective on collaboration – away from considering their employees proprietary, toward a mindset of shared talent, toward a give-and-take, toward agile resources that ultimately benefit everyone in the organization. Because, of course, not only do talents temporarily get redirected into other areas, but conversely, employees with whom previously there were no points of contact become involved in your projects. These new perspectives bring agility into your own area of responsibility, can increase competence and creativity, and thus ultimately serve your own goals, the adaptation of which, by the way, can and should also be a part of the transformation process. Managers need more freedom and incentives to not only get involved in the new conditions but also to actively push them forward.

I and WE only work together

So from here on out it’s a free for all? – Not quite. The “I” plays a crucial role in open and collaborative structures. A healthy ME and a well-functioning WE are mutually dependent. Only in the interaction with other people do we discover ourselves, with all our desires and talents. If these individual needs and abilities are seen and can unfold in the company while at the same time there is clarity about a common goal and shared values, control becomes superfluous in many places. And a new feeling spreads around: control is good, but trust is so much better.

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