Enemies Required

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Shifting culture isn’t easily achieved; whilst we hope for noble cooperation, weightier tension is required to create bonds among a group. For people to put aside their differences and work collaboratively, we need a threat that sufficiently eclipses our internal organizational conflicts – either a catastrophe or an enemy.


Getting towards the end of the year we look for next year’s need. Leaders and seniors talk lately about collaborative culture – creating, changing, improving, etc. Shifting culture within an organization is difficult, and whilst a positive corporate culture can be infectious, normally those aren’t the ones talking about the need to change.

Changing culture is a different challenge, the results often falling by the wayside with many publicly visible projects having limited effects. Grand visions don’t translate well for individuals at lower levels, in/inter-group competition is human nature politely camouflaged.


Sufficient catastrophes or external threats give differences pause, conflict abandoned whilst the outside issue is resolved. In some cases it may not take long or require tremendous effort, but the needs of perceived survival still play a pivotal role and have extended positive effects.

For short-term reset, catastrophes are preferable. The lack of risk or threat amidst the chaos and destruction means the focus is purely on recovery. The trouble using disasters as sources of unity among groups is their unpredictable and intermittent nature; not creating consistent challenge to maintain positive, cohesive dynamics. Over time, the tensions paused by recovery efforts will return, unless the positive cultural shift was sufficient to continue.

Enemies are more sustainable in building team cohesion. Properly adopted, they create a polarizing catalyst fueling a drive to protect what the group considers their own. Enemies aren’t new, though often perceived to be other elements within the organization. Shifting to an external set of enemies gives the group the external tension necessary to overlook many internal slights – there is a bigger threat looming closer than the horizon.

In cyber, enemies are plentiful, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of criminal hackers looking to find the one chink of the armour to exploit. Whilst the vast majority are not sophisticated enough to break through, all it really takes is an unlucky break at the wrong time across an organization’s vast surface area to get in and wreak havoc. More importantly, the possibility of an enemy getting within our borders can be used to galvanize the various components to work collectively to prevent occurrence.

The difficulty comes from seeing malicious actors as enemies, not part of the normal course of business.