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Work Across Factions

by | Jan 9, 2023 | KLC Framework

There is a spiritual element to this dimension of Energize Others. We have to believe it is worthwhile to connect with people who see the world differently. We must be open – as we seek to energize others – to the possibility that we might discover new directions ourselves. We might even need to practice loving people we really don’t like at all. We might need to allow ourselves to be changed through our interactions with them.

As you read this article, think about applying what’s here to a big aspiration of yours, a concern you want to address in your company or your community, a challenge that has you stuck. Think about an adaptive challenge that impacts the lives of people it is easy for you to care about. Consider everything you’ve already tried to energize all the necessary people to work toward that aspiration. 

Then ask yourself two questions: “Have I engaged authentically with those whose values related to this challenge are different from my own? Have I allowed my own perspective or approach to change as a result?”

The good news is, if the answer to either of those questions is “no,” you have possibilities left to explore. There are experiments you can try to work across factions and get unstuck. Because energizing opposing factions requires a willingness to be energized by them as well. When we engage wholeheartedly in work across factions, we have to be ready to embrace new perspectives, question our own assumptions, and even prioritize others’ values over our own.

Definitions Will Be Useful

So, what are we talking about when we say, “Factions”?

A faction is a group of people who share common values, loyalties, and may experience similar losses if the system makes progress on the challenge at hand.

  • Values, in this context, are deeply held beliefs related to an adaptive challenge, often based on significant life experience, and revealed through actions and behaviors.
  • Loyalties describe dedication to a group, place, people or way of doing things that may become barriers to progress on the adaptive challenge at hand. For a faction under pressure to change and adapt, loyalties often trump values.
  • Losses are what a faction gives up (or fears having to give up) if progress is made on an adaptive challenge. For example, control, security, prestige, familiarity, etc. Sometimes factions are difficult to energize because they anticipate losses and see risks they are not willing to take

Diagnose First

Identify who needs to do the work is the leadership move (part of the competency Diagnose Situation) that sets you up to successfully engage all the necessary factions. When you thoughtfully decide which factions need to be energized, you get ready to engage the people you’ll need to make progress on your complex, adaptive challenge.

We have found that it is most effective, in preparing to work across factions, to describe other factions as they might describe themselves. Use noble terms and words you could use in front of members of that faction. We are so accustomed to hearing members of different factions describe one another in derogatory terms on social media and on talk shows that it’s worth taking time to practice speaking respectfully about the faction you seek to energize.

How Do You Work Across Factions?

Check out page 120 in O’Malley and Cebula’s Your Leadership Edge for tips and ideas for working across factions. The powerful questions in chapter 20 of When Everyone Leads are helpful too. Whatever approach you take, listen actively to the representative from another faction, making sure they experience your authentic empathy with the losses and loyalties that will need to be renegotiated as you seek solutions to a complex challenge.

Systemic Pressures Make This Work Difficult

Systemic pressures and patterns drive individuals into one faction or another and often keep those factions from collaborating effectively. Push yourself and others to explore tough interpretations about how people typically communicate, how things are structured, who has power, and how resources normally get distributed in your system. 

Think again about your challenge. Are any of those norms making it hard for folks to work with factions whose priorities are different from their own? Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, test your systemic interpretations. If you have enough authority to tweak a process or two, try running experiments designed to streamline processes, address power differentials, or eliminate systemic barriers to collaboration and change. See what happens.

Does addressing systemic barriers encourage people to work across factions more?

Manage Self Skills Help You Work Across Factions

Working across factions is simpler than it seems (start authentically engaging people whose values are different from your own.) But it will still be tricky if you are easily triggered or staunchly committed to your own comfort. 

If progress toward your aspirations is important to you, don’t wait until you are 100% confident in the outcome to engage people whose values are different from your own. But do check out our blogs on the leadership competency Manage Self to help you anticipate and hold steady during heated moments. Working across factions is where the leadership rubber hits to road of real life. Go for it! The rewards are real. Who knows? It may even be a spiritual experience.


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