Ownership - Victim or Victor?


By brianvmoore, 9 May, 2009

One of the most amazing things that I have observed, time and again, in our transformational team building programs - is how easily some people give away ownership for their lives. In so doing they destroy themselves, their relationships and groups that they belong to.

The deeply ingrained, Industrial revolution-linked, top-down management style prevalent in many families, companies and organizations, has left behind a bundle of non-performing victims. They do not take action for their own behavior and are constantly looking for reasons why things “just will not work.”

They are the perpetually unhappy, not-yet grown-up adults who constantly run to “mommy”, with their problems. Of course “mommy”, is either their manager, or some member of the team/ family or community who happens to listen to their stories.

In our more extensive Celebrating Humanity Harvest team-builds, teams set-up its own Values Circle. This is a peer-created and managed code of conduct - where the team determines what is acceptable and desired behavior within the team. And, as importantly, they decide which behaviors are undesirable and taboo. This invariably includes gossiping and backstabbing.

In these sessions there is a clearing, of all past inter-personal challenges. The team and its members are rewarded with an agreement, in which they are safe and accountable for their own behavior and for that of the members of their team. They are empowered to be in charge of their future interactions, as fully-functioning adults, working together in harmony. “Mommy” is no longer needed.

Case Study 1 - Still infiltrated by Victims

I met this team for our normal follow-up - 1 month after the initial team build, clearing and agreement session. And their case is not unusual.

Most of the team members had gained through the team building and found a marked difference in the way in which they, and the team related to each other. They commented in the following manner:-
“ I am feeling more comfortable with the care within the team. Previously no-one cared, and I felt it.”
“I really enjoyed understanding more about other cultures. I now know how to work differently with different people.”
“Understanding my communication style, and having the ability to assess other people, means that I now adjust my communication for each individual person.”
“When you know your personality type, and how it can affect others, you can change your behavior to get better results.”
“I am always monitoring my overbearing personality, to ensure that I grow my team without dominating them.”
“What I realised is that if I want respect, I must be respectful.”

The bulk of the members of the team had taken responsibility for their own behavior. One even owned up to gossiping, prior to the team building - saying that this had now stopped.

And yet there were a few strongly verbose people, of varying levels, within the room, who stated that “nothing had changed.” “There are still people not adhering to the agreements,” they said. These are the victims and they are very dangerous and will actively, or unconsciously, work to destabilise harmonious environments.

I was not surprised. These were the spectators, that will be found in any organization.


Spectators are observers and complainers - they wait for things to change. They do nothing positive to ensure that good things happen.

If all is going well, they cheer for their team. Sadly, when there are problems - they immediately complain to, or about “mommy. “They must do something about this.” Or, “This was just a waste of money, nothing changed.” Challenges have nothing to do with them.

These poor people simply have no power whatsoever, unless they are bringing something, or somebody, down. Unfortunately their ability to destroy is very strong in weak organizations, and divided families and teams. They will never have anything because they are victims. And victims will make sure that they do not allow others to succeed either.

7 Rules to work with victims.

1. Set behavior principles and behavior rules with the entire team/ family. List and decide on what you will and won’t do. Set the amount of transgressions, before action is taken. Ensure that all of you manage the agreements, fairly. No-one is above the rules and they must be applied at all times.
2. Involve them in finding solutions. Challenge them to look for answers.
3. Don’t listen to their negative stories, or gossip. When they are complaining, ask them what they are doing about it - or put them in front of the person with whom they “have a problem.” Then open their conversation with, “X has a problem, with something you have done. You should talk about it.” And move on.
4. Never agree with, or get involved in their negativity. Once they have you in the “inner circle”, you will find it very difficult to get out.
5. Praise them for what they do well.
6. Guide them on what they can do differently. Never attack them, as a person. Always talk about the actions that they can change to get better results in their lives.
7. Remember to focus on your team agreements and love the victims anyway. If the team/ family environment is sound, they will either adjust their own behavior and fit in, or find other places to be destructive. Let them go.

Case Study 2: Once victims and now victors

15 months after the first intervention, the supervisor sent this feedback, about where their team was before the transformational team build, what had happened during the Celebrating Humanity© program and their new workplace situation:

"I had a group of 30 people from diverse cultures. They could not get on with each other.
There was continuous friction between the different race groups, and between people from the same race and cultural group. The people were negative and were not satisfied with anything.
1. Complaints were the order of the day; this also placed our team in a bad light with management. We decided on the Celebrating Humanity© training.
2. The people were very negative about the program initially.
3. As the course progressed the people’s attitudes changed from negative to positive.
4. Communication, respect and ownership improved from all sides by 100%. The respect between different race groups has been restored.
5. Some of the people who were negative have changed so much that they have been promoted to higher positions with greater responsibility.
6. The foundation of the entire course was so successful that the group is now going ahead with a leadership course."

This team decided that enough was enough and took a strong hold of the power of ownership. They decided that they would work together, irrespective of the disrespect that had consumed their team for years before.

This was their chance to enjoy work, be more professional and above all to work in a safe and respectful environment.

Is your team suffering as a result of inter-personal, inter-level, or inter-group conflict. Are personality or mis-communication stresses tearing your team apart?

On a more personal note, are you a victor or a victim. Do you look for the good, or are you focused on the bad? If it is the latter, there is noting out there for you but misery and blame. These are normally attached to personal loneliness, stress and disease.

Here are 10 things that you can do.

1. Work from the principle that “at the level of respect, all people are equal.” Treat people with respect and you will get respect.
2. Take ownership for your life - because the quality of your life, your happiness and your successes are dependent upon your own actions.
3. Focus on making a positive difference. You will find opportunities for great change where “things are just not right.”
4. Look for ways to respect your family and your team, in the way that they want to be respected.
5. Learn to listen more and complain less.
6. Ask people - “What can I do to help.” Or, “What can I do to make this work.”
7. Don’t let your problems poison the people around you. Talk to people about your challenges and resolve them, or move on.
8. Speak up when you see something good and speak up if you are unhappy/ or uncomfortable with another person’s actions, or unacceptable situations.
9. And here is the big thing, speak to the people who are the challenge, for you - or to people who have the responsibility to make changes. Never speak to people who have no power to make any difference, at all.
10. And if you come across a spectator - use the 7 rules to working with victims. You will make a difference - and it will be positive.

The good thing in formulating the right kinds of team agreements together, is that those teams that powerfully guard and keep to their agreements, will take absolute personal ownership for their future. They will make sure that they have a positive empowering environment - and they will make things work.

When this happens - the victims will either change their behavior, or look for another place to be unhappy. Either way, the team and its future is safe.

Enjoy life! You only get one chance!

Brian Moore - MD, Celebrating Humanity International.
Author - Team Conflict Resolution Strategies.
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Team Building in South Africa
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