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The Horror of Unilaterialism

The Horror of Unilaterialism

Unilateralism means doing things alone. It means not working with the team. It means not asking for help. It means running the whole race, alone, loner, unilateralismfrom start to finish, all by yourself.

We hear something similar frequently from our politicians. We hear the rhetoric about partisan and bi-partisan legislation. Usually, bi-partisan legislation is more powerful and effective than partisan legislation. It represents ideas and proposals from more than one perspective.

Whatever you do, don’t be a partisan HR player. In the HR world, we don’t belong to competing political parties, so I use the words unilateral and bilateral, where unilateral represents the efforts of one person, and the word bilateral represents the work done by several people.

We see this behavior in sports, too. When watching a basketball game you might hear fans yelling, “Pass the ball, pass the ball!” You might have been one of those yelling. When this happens, we mean it. We mean, pass the ball. Involve other members of the team. We can see from our vantage point up in the stands that the team would be better off, might score more if the guy with the ball would just pass it off to one of the other team members.

How true this is for human resource professionals, too. There are times, many times, when we all would be better off by just passing the ball, the issue, the question, the meeting to one of our teammates.

Or, tag teaming. Invite a team member to join you, consult with them, ask for their input, and get them involved somehow.

Or, getting two or three HR practitioners together to discuss and determine the best approach to the question, the issue, or a problem that needs solving.

Unilateralism is so deadly because our employees and leaders, whom we serve, not only see this behavior, but also are confused by it. Unilateral behavior does not give the perception to our customers that we have depth behind us. It compromises the team. It lessens our impact. Our service suffers.

The tricky part of this behavior is that, for a short time period, we can fool ourselves into looking like, or thinking we look like the HR Hero – another prototype to avoid like the plague. Sometimes our customers, in an effort to show gratitude, give us individual and personal thanks. This is all well and good. However, those of us who are weak, and prone to unilateralism, tend to let this type of praise feed further unilateral action.

Unilateral behavior is death. Death to the team, and ultimately, death to the person who engages in it.

It kills the team. It hurts customer perception of depth and skill on the team. It ultimately destroys the practitioner who engages in unilateral action. It limits your ability to bring in subject matter experts. It limits your view of an issue. It poisons and then feeds on poisoned ego. It is divisive. It limits the range of options brought to the customer. It hurts decision-making. It kills projects. It limits the customer's access to good and great service. In short, unilateralism is death.

It doesn’t matter how small your immediate team is, or if your human resource department is a human resource team of one. Engaging in unilateral behavior will limit what you do, how you do and your ability to contribute in greater ways to the organization. If your team is small, then look at your team composition in other ways. There is sure to be a handful of other people, who in some form or fashion are part of your team. In other words, don’t let team size keep you engaged in unilateralism.

You can stop unilateral behavior by focusing on communications, team sharing, cross training, and setting up opportunities for participation. Staff meetings. Shared reports. Bringing others into solution-focused discussions. Rounding the workplace with others on your staff. Getting ideas and input from others.

There is not one good thing that comes from unilateral behavior.

I may have said it already, however, it bears repeating: Unilateralism is death.

Questions to Ponder:

Do you look for unilateral behaviors and stop them?

Do you unknowingly reward unilateral behavior?

Do you find ways to identify and discourage unilateral behaviors?

Do you foster team engagement?

Do you provide many opportunities for sharing?

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Philip Espinosa partners with people to deliver value: People | Partnerships | Value serves as his tag line. As a strategic human resources leader, he believes that service starts with the customer. His book "Deliver Excellent Customer Service with a SNAP” helps others drive customer engagement using simple and consistent communication strategies. A second book titled "Focus On Your Success - 24 Simple Insights To Drive Daily Achievement" (ebook) helps working professionals view their daily choices through a different perspective. In addition to his writing, Philip works with strategic human capital initiatives and has delivered successful results over a career spanning more than 25 years.

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