The Organizational Danger of ‘Invisible’ People

It is surprising just how invisible people are to one another. While the bodies are visible, their inner thoughts, needs, worldviews, and intentions are often hidden. The new hire full of enthusiasm nevertheless feels invisible to the long-time employees loyal to their own culture. The experienced middle manager suddenly finds himself ignored, invisible to the young turk taking over. The introverted high performer feels unseen by the boss and by more extrovert team members.

It’s important to realize that invisible people represent an invisible danger to bottom line success—with some very visible dollars-and-cents consequences. Here are just two cautionary tales drawn fromreal Spiral Dynamics workshop scenarios.

Teamwork Is Not Conformity

A six-member workshop team included a young man who didn’t accept that the “belief” of his colleagues was as significant or as explanatory as they thought it was. His hard-edged questioning was interpreted as combative, and he became “other” by not conforming to their standards.Conflict between the young man and the rest of the group caused dysfunction for the entire team. The other team members took on the task of getting the young man to conform with group thinking. The irony of the situation was that the young “disbeliever” processed ideas in more complex ways and was more open, flexible and innovative.But his intentions, his approach, his needs, and his contributions were invisible to his colleagues. The team’s consequent insistence on homogeneity prevented deeper learning, implementation, agility, and creativity,so that the team’s work quality was lower compared with other teams.

Don’t dismiss the hidden costs of allowing people to be invisible within organizations and teams. Invisible people can have very visiblenegative impacts on productivity, collaboration, decision-making, and innovation.

Collaboration Co-Exists With Recognition

Knowledge worker’s contributions are much more difficult to measure than those of factory workers, but they are often very significant, even essential, to organizational success. Consider the following example of how trust and collaboration were destroyed when one employee’s contributions were made invisible.

Naomi was a generous and supportive collaborator. If a colleague called with a question orproblem, Naomi was happy to help. Richard found her extremely informative, and he made a habit of connecting with her every week to get her views and analyses. Because they were communicating via telephone, Naomi didn’t know that Richard was making copious notes of her thoughts and words. When Richard told her that he was working on a project and presentation, she was excited for him. But when Richard presented his work, Naomi and other colleagues were stunned; Richard openly quoted phrases, ideas, and specific analyses that clearly came from Naomi but he claimed them as his own and did not give her credit.

Not only did Naomi lose trust in the value of collaboration, but other colleagues did as well. And Richard was not unscathed; colleagues distanced themselves from him and marginalized him as untrustworthy. Overall, the cooperative spirit and teamwork of the organization was damaged.

As these examples show,important assets in terms of contributions, thinking, intention, motivation, ideas, needs, and personality can remain completely invisible within an organization. Unfortunately, tuning in and really comprehending the inner nature of the people around us is something that doesn’t come naturally. That’s why Spiral Dynamics tools and training are so valuable; they help expose people to deeper human insights, strengthen the fabric of interactions, and change the way they see their world.