In ethnographic research, there’s a concern that the researcher might “go native.” Ethnographic research is so immersive that it is easy to gradually lose one’s sense of self and purpose – in essence, the researcher starts to think like the “natives” do. This, of course, makes it very difficult to have an objective point of view and inhibits one’s ability to analyze that environment, situation, problem, etc.
This phenomenon has always fascinated me – even more so when I started to notice it occurring all the time at work. Whether part of a huge corporation or a small nonprofit, it was clear that many team members had gone native already or were most definitely on their way.
Many workplaces are blessed to retain employees for 10, 20, 30 years; but I posit there is a lurking danger here as well. The danger is complacency, comfort and routine. It sometimes starts to happen even after a year or two in the same environment. Heck, I’ve even felt myself start to go native after a few months. So, my question is this: are you too comfortable in the belly of the beast?
Sure, it’s great to be a long-standing member of a team. I am not proposing that institutional knowledge and team-member bonds are throw-aways. There is huge value there. But sometimes the belly of the beast is a toxic place to be. Your group-thinking can prove poisonous and your creativity can become septic.
In the world of consulting, this is a defense that needs continuous bolstering. Consultants often get a bad name because they come in with a bunch of prescriptive gobbledygook; but I bet that, most of the time, that gobbledygook contains things your team would have never thought of and, more often than not, things they don’t want to hear.
I will concede that bringing in an outside consultant isn’t the only way to shake things up a bit. Providing your team with new forms of training and exposing them to a variety of philosophies and viewpoints should definitely break the monotony and the comfort. Outlawing statements like, “We have always done it this way,” or “But that’s the only thing that works for this team/manager/company,” should help as well. I just encourage you – whether your team is clearly stuck in a rut or just operating smoothly, business as usual – to seek external influence, encourage refreshing viewpoints and reward disruptive ideas. Don’t allow beast-belly comfort to stifle your team’s success.
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