Resistance Is Futile

Long before the Borg, this phrase appeared in Doctor Who in the Cybermen. The Cybermen were basically the Borg before the Borg was a thing, only scarier. The Borg are cybernetic organisms linked in a hive mind called the collective. The idea was that eventually you would be assimilated into the collective, and there was nothing you could do about it. The ongoing complexity was whether being assimilated was a good thing or not.

The Borg mission was perfection through the assimilation of alien technology and knowledge. They did not require the cooperation of the entity being assimilated; instead, they forced compliance by injecting nanoprobes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The addition of each assimilated entity did increase the Borg Collective knowledge base and capability, but, for some reason, they are always defeated in confrontation with free agents.

In our communities and organizations, we are faced with a choice between cooperation and compliance. Compliance is relatively easy to gain. People who need a job will do what they are told to do to get paid. People in a community will most often obey the “rules” if the penalties for infractions are high enough either in cost or inconvenience.

However, anyone who has ever raised (or spent time with) a child knows that compliance can come at a heavy cost. You can force a child to do something, but it takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, and, in the end, may not be worth it after all. Additionally, you may be able to force a person or two (or a few) into compliance, but if very many people resist very much, it becomes impossible to manage them all.

Cooperation is what we really desire in the people who are part of our communities. At its most basic, cooperation is simply people working together to achieve a common goal or end. It requires two very basic things: a common goal and a willingness to work together. We talk a lot about common goals, mission, vision, the things that connect us, but how do we get people to work together?

After we have a common purpose, we have to create an open, safe environment. Leaders are the key to developing a safe space. The way we treat people with less power signals to everyone whether it is okay to be vulnerable and trust others. If mistakes are met with curious grace and ideas are taken seriously, people will lean into the team, not away from it.

Safe places are not always inclusive places. Inclusion requires intentionally encouraging people to voice diverse viewpoints. In planning and strategizing, this is sometimes called Red Teaming. Going past “allowing” people to think differently and actually seeking different ideas as part of the process can help people join in.

People are always personally invested in their own ideas and opinions. To achieve a common goal, it is sometimes necessary to negotiate an agreement. It is important for leaders to communicate that while we may reject an idea, we don’t reject people. The way we praise, promote, and compensate people all signal whether we reward perfection or cooperation. Try to remember, just because someone is right doesn’t mean others are wrong.

Finally, we must model fairness and equity in the application of the rules. Nothing stifles creativity and open cooperation like knowing that someone else can get away with something or gets more credit or more opportunity. If leaders won’t protect their individual team members, then each person must look out for themselves. This is not a helpful dynamic for cultivating cooperation.

A couple words about resistance. Resistance is not necessarily futile or bad. If we have created an open and cooperative culture, resistance is an important signal. When an individual on your team has a hesitation or caution about something, pay attention. Resistance can be a source of protection.

For some people, resistance is a learning style. Pushing against the edges is a way to explore our surroundings. When team members push against us or our ideas, our first response should be to help them find more information and see where their curiosity leads. What starts as resistance can result in more developed strategies.

The last thing we want as leaders is to rely on forced compliance in our teams. We do not want to be like the Borg and assimilate people into a homogenous collective. Rather, we want to encourage and nurture true bonding, support, and teamwork in an atmosphere of openness, trust, and safety. Resistance isn’t futile, but cooperation is more fruitful, and it is the Bison Way.