Children have a funny habit of reflecting the attitudes and behaviors of their parents. Behavior is learned, and parents are the primary teachers for their children. With this in mind, I’m always a little surprised to hear parents complain about their children’s bad behavior when from the perspective of a neutral observer, it is apparent the children are simply acting out what they’ve been taught.
Lately I’ve been wondering more about whether this same phenomenon plays out in the workplace. Over the years I’ve heard plenty of managers complain about employees not working well together. Often these same managers refer to their employees as children. They express their dissatisfaction with having to be a parent to their employees.
So the question is, where are the employees learning these behaviors? I would argue that an organization’s culture is formed at the top and trickles down through example and the reward/punishment systems. If front line employees aren’t demonstrating teamwork, I usually start looking up the chain of command to see what kind of behaviors are being modeled. It’s not uncommon to see turf battles, political backstabbing, deception, holding back information and all kinds of really unproductive behaviors at the top. In these organizations, it is no wonder the employees are behaving badly. They’ve learned the behaviors from their leaders.
Image credit: Steve Snodgrass