AN INDIVIDUAL ANGLE
Does working for the ORG feel like
being just a COG in a big machine ?
What happens to humanity & individuality inside a strong ORG ?
Such big and important questions.
Let's start on a very simple, granular level.
CHECK-IN is a practice that helps teams and groups to run more smoothly. Let's start there.
CHECK-IN is the way some work groups begin their time together. Other groups go straight to work but Check-In gives each member a minute or so to tell the team anything they feel like mentioning. It may be trivial ("I saw something funny on my way here") or "I have this problem on my mind", Everyone gets a turn.
This way we acknowledge and affirm each other, simply. We are not mere cogs. Although we are here to work for the ORG, still we are people, humans, with our own individuality. Even if I don't like you, I don't turn my back on you. No-one should feel invisible.
The "work" to be done goes beyond the technical tasks. If workers are totally insensitive to their colleagues ("Let's just do the work without personal stuff") then misunderstandings and hurt feelings, "people problems" will arise, "Micro-aggressions". They result in time lost, more defects produced, safety accidents, etc. Check-In is one practice that can reduce this risk and even sometimes provide a little sweetness or humor.
Leadership in work groups therefore has two sides: i) the technical work and ii) the personal interactions among workers. When "social skills" or simple sensitivity is missing in some team members the work will suffer .
In some cases informal leaders emerge to coach and model considerate behavior.
Does such good citizenship come from "cogs"?
Does it come from people who see others as cogs?
Our metaphors and mental models are powerful. We commonly think of any ORG as a kind of machine - a machine for creating value of various kinds. In one way that image fits BUT it carries dangerous implications. It allows us to think of the people involved as cogs, with no life outside the job, no feelings, and no respect.
Instead of the Machine metaphor we could think of the ORG as a Community of people who spend significant time together with some common goals and behavior norms.
Metaphors and mental models are useful for thinking but rarely an exact fit. An ORG can also be considered as a Quasi-Living Thing or organism. Like all living things (but not machines) any ORG is committed to growing. It is liable to change direction, to collaborate with some others and to compete with other others.
An ORG is a special kind of living organism - one comprised of units (people) capable of separating from the current host and living elsewhere in other social arrangements. Machines do not have components that need to be motivated, that think for themselves, that may quit and go into competition. Machines do not (so far) have components that encourage each other or invent new ways to achieve organizational goals. Hence the community metaphor and the notion of organizational learning.
Understanding the Individual/ORG connection is far more important than just to avoid "people problems". It can be the key to achieving peak performance and great satisfaction thru an ORG. When members are united in their passion to achieve their shared ORG goal (given good strategy) the sky is the limit.
Bureaucratic culture is mechanistic and tends to create "cog" thinking and behavior - along with the mental model that we should "leave our personal baggage at the door". That is fine for personal prejudices and discrimination. But extending it to eliminate every touch of "personal stuff" reduces every employee to a faceless cog - faceless to their boss and to their colleagues.
Respect for colleagues implies seeing them as individuals, When reciprocated, that mutual recognition favors respect and avoids the stress of the "faceless-cog" situation. It can also foster good work relationships that can cushion some of the unavoidable stress of many people's daily life.