Integrate, Don’t Balance

By Fons Trompenaars, Renowned Culture and Innovation Guru

In the history of mankind, we have always had to do more with less; but there are times when we have had to do even more with still less. That’s the definition of “efficiency.”

I like the phrase “doing more with still less” because it conveys a dilemma. We have more output with less input. That’s okay. But how do we do that? I think there’s a fundamental shift in leadership that we need to acknowledge. We have had times where we did less with less, or more with more. Now we see the increased diversity in the world, not so much with quantity but with experience. We need to take advantage of diversity more than ever. And our paradigms are still in the old way of thinking—that we need to do more with more or less with less. We need to combine. But how do we do that? Let me give you some basic challenges we are facing that cannot be solved with the old paradigm.

We need to have better private lives and do more at work. This whole work–life balance challenge is not solved by balance. Why? Because the balance between working life and private life is such that we do half of our professional emails at home, so the family is unhappy and the emails are bad. In fact, the whole metaphor of balance is the wrong metaphor, because “balance” assumes a bipolar scale: If one goes up—more—there should be less on the other side. That’s not how we solve it. We need to integrate on a higher level.

Can we use our family life to get a better professional life? And how can our professional life help us get a better private life? These aren’t easy questions, and I don’t even want to give the answers; but let’s at least ask the right questions.

So what do we feel if, for example, on the one hand we need more teamwork and on the other hand we need more individual creativity? Again, don’t try to balance. Try to integrate on a higher level; say, “Can we use individual creativity to improve the quality of our teams?” Do you agree that the quality of a team is measured against how much it supports individual creativity? Then we do more with less.

Let’s take global versus local. I don’t think we can have less local and more global, or vice versa. We need to ask the question: How, by working locally, can we increase the quality of what we offer globally? And isn’t the global approach measured against how it works locally? That’s a paradigm that will lead to more with more, or less with less, but in a way where we do it smarter. We can get more with less only by reconciling the differences between cultures and between approaches and collecting viewpoints.

The last example is about leadership. Do we need more top-down and less bottom-up, or vice versa? That’s the wrong question. We get more with less if we do one thing: We make sure, with servant leadership, that we listen more to the people behind us and under us to get an authority that will enable and empower them to do more themselves. It’s a bit like parents with children. You use your top-down authority to engage your young people to do it themselves, and vice versa. If you listen to your young people, you as a leader will get more authority.

That’s more with still less—without suffering.

Fons Trompenaars is headlining ATD Middle East Conference & Exhibition 2018 in Dubai. He will sharing his thoughts on Innovation, Culture, and Change in the New Learning Era. Visit www.atdmiddleeast.com for more information.

Fons Trompenaars
Fons joined Shell in 1981 and moved into the personnel division for Shell in Rotterdam. From 1985, he worked in job classification and management development at the Shell Research Laboratories in Amsterdam. In 1989 he founded the Centre for International Business Studies, a consulting and training organization for international management. Since 1998, it operates as Trompenaars Hampden-Turner. Fons has worked as a consultant for Shell, BP, ICI, Philips, Heineken, TRW, Mars, Motorola, General Motors, Nike, Cable and Wireless, CSM, and Merrill Lynch.