Us against Them

Circling the Wagons

You are Americans. You are Germans. Your companies have been merged. Collaboration is key to your success. Let’s talk about loyalty. It’s a big word, a really big word.

Who are you loyal to? To your respective companies? Germans to the German side of company, Americans to the American side of company? Or to the stockholders, including institutional investors? Are you loyal to your customers? And what about your suppliers?

I suspect that you are loyal to those people who influence, or even determine, your success. Because your success pays the bills, secures your future. Success protects you. It keeps you strong. Success enables you to protect people you are taking caring of. Spouse, children, a relative, the people you love.


Why I raise the loyalty question is rather simple. Because in many situations problems, disagreement, tension, confrontation occurs. In such situations sides can be formed. One side against other. Us-against-them.

And in the context of global organisations sides are formed along country lines, based on culture, based on national culture. “We Americans against those Germans” and “We Germans against those Americans.” It is particularly common during post-merger integration and can continue long after integration.

This us-against-them attitude is also called circling the wagons. From old Hollywood movies. From westerns. Innocent white settlers moving west to make a life for themselves. But they come into conflict with the Native Americans, also known as Indians. The battles are vicious and brutal, terrible. In the movies the Indians are savages. Remember that term, savage?

What did the settlers do when attacked? They circled the wagons. The women and childen hid in safety. The men got out their rifles, defended women and children, against murder, rape, enslavement, by those evil, savage Indians. Or at least that is what the movies protrayed. The German term Wagenburg means literally “wagon fort” or “fort made with wagons.”

Reject it !

Here is my point with the loyalty question: There will be times – perhaps now – when tension is high, when some colleagues talk us-against-them. I understand that. It is human. It is native to us. It is natural.

We are unsure, insecure, frightened, literally scared. In such times, if colleagues from the same country, from the same culture, talk in terms of us-against-them, I want you to say “No.” I am serious. I am dead serious. I want you to say: “No, that is too simple. No, that drives us apart. No, that is not a solution.”

Then I want you to ask: “What is the problem? How can we solve the problem? Together, with colleagues from the other side of Atlantic?”

It always fails

I am not joking. This is not some kind of touchy-feely, psychobabble, nonsense. I am speaking from both the head and the heart. If you are sincerely listening, then you are hearing me with both your head and your heart.

Because we know that every form of us-against-them is driven by fear, and that any- and everything we think, say or do which is driven by fear is wrong. Not only wrong, but ineffective. Not only ineffective, but harmful.

Us-against-them is fear-driven. It is self-defeating. We are defeating ourselves. It damages our very selves. Now this will not be easy. Believe me, I know. I have enough life experience to know this. I have many years working in USA-Germany space, many years helping colleagues, to collaborate, many of whom were in a battle against each other.


It takes great courage to say to colleagues from the same team, company, culture: “No, I will not participate in any us-against-them nonsense against our colleagues from the other side.”

The pressure will be great. Some will call you a traitor. Others will ostracize you. Still others will apply pressure on you. You need to stand firm. How? By focusing on the solution. By continuing to collaborate. As best you can. With your new colleagues, with colleagues from other side.

You simply need to be honest, transparent, fact-based, and most importantly, remain calm. People who play the us-against-them card always lose in end. They will be exposed sooner or later, because us-against-them is fear-driven, manipulative, and it does not work.

Expose Cowardice

A final point: us-against-them occurs on both sides of Atlantic. If colleagues on other side begin slipping into us-against-them, reach out to them, help them to solve problems, to reduce the tension.

Expose us-against-them for the stupid, primitive trick it is. Shine light on it, get it out into the open. If you expose us-against-them, if you get it out into the open, it shrivels up, it shrinks, it hides, it runs a way. Why?

Because every form of us-against-them is cowardly. People who push us-against-them are cowards. When exposed cowards always run away. Why? Because they are cowards. And that’s what cowards do. They run away.