A shared mission is required to unite people in any social organisation. It is an essential pre-condition for securing their commitment to work together while dispelling any fear or suspicion that any of them may be merely used for the benefit of others.
Alas, too many of those in leadership positions think they can define the mission of the public or private institution they run without involving others. But since people come together to meet challenges that are more effectively tackled by a group, the appropriateness of any arrangements set up for their joint working can only be judged with reference to their effectiveness in meeting those challenges.
That is why proposals by authoritarian thinkers from Han Fei to Hobbes are self-defeating. When people need to come together to put an end to “continual fear and danger of violent death”, or prevent life from being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, the last thing they want is to hand power to an absolute ruler who may then without constraint threaten and oppress others. It is also why it is untenable for the likes of Rousseau and Marx to suggest that people can leave their fate to some sagacious lawgiver/vanguard leader to discern the ‘general will’ or ‘dialectics of history’ without being subject to the public’s ongoing and critical examination. Similarly, Locke, Smith, and others who think that people can be left to bargain amongst themselves until they have a system they can sign up to, fail to see that those with more power than others would use it to pressure the rest to accept less-than-optimal deals.
Any arrangement, which fails to ensure that all involved are equally respected for their participation and none can wield excessive power to twist others’ arms into joining in on disadvantaged terms, simply falls at the first hurdle. This applies to government, voluntary or business organisations.
If no shared mission can be defined, then the group should be dissolved lest it continues for the benefit of a few who gain from the those who contribute for relatively little in return. On the other hand, if there are challenges that can only be met through a shared mission, it would be remiss not to form a group capable of undertaking that mission. Indeed the folly of ignoring the prospect of greater strengths from numbers has been borne out by countless small, isolated tribes and businesses being wiped out, while more robustly organised groups march on.
It is tempting to dismiss the call for solidarity in joint action as idealistic, but it is in fact naïve in the extreme to suppose that any social, economic or political organisation can ever succeed without it. Those that seek to function by imposing submission breed dissent that will destroy its foundation. Those that profess a common purpose but fail to engage everyone in its pursuit will disintegrate through the spread of indifference.
Only those that provide the structure for people to identify specific common concerns and collaborate to carry out their genuinely shared mission can flourish. The success of every firm, association and government depends on it striving to improve continuously by this core yardstick for joint working.
Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
How widely is the core mission owned and appreciated by all members?
How convinced are members that they have an organisation which has the rules and capacity to achieve their mission?
Does the way the shared mission is applied to changing circumstances reflect the informed concerns of the members?
Are there signs that members feel a lack of cohesion, concerned that they are isolated and insecure?
What proportion of members are indifferent or antagonistic towards other members?
[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]