“American managers are stupid,” my correspondent offered, by way of explaining why so many ignore his perspectives.

I decided not to ask whether he meant that (1) all Americans are stupid and, by the laws of object inheritance and the transitive law of algebra, American managers, being Americans, are stupid; (2) American managers are stupider than the average American; or (3) it’s Sturgeon’s Law in action: 90% of everyone are stupid and that includes American managers.

To the best of my knowledge nobody has ever surveyed American managerial IQs to determine whether the mean is less than, greater than, or equal to 100 — IQ’s definitional IQ average. Also, IQ is a badly flawed metric.

Meanwhile, the American managers I’ve personally worked with have in general been a brighter than average lot. While employee dissatisfaction with management is both widespread and deserved, I’m pretty sure it isn’t because they are, as a class, dopes.

Which somehow or other brings us to this week’s topic.

Many companies conduct employee satisfaction surveys. Some are better than others, but I’ve yet to see any that move beyond warm fuzzies to the only metrics that matter in a market economy.

The KJR alternative: ask employees to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction financially.

It will take only four questions:

Question #1: What percentage of your total compensation would you be willing to give up in exchange for a better manager?

Question #2: What is it about your manager that led to your answer to Question #1?

Question #3: What percentage of your total compensation would you be willing to give up in exchange for working in a better company?

Question #4: What is it about this company that led to your answer to Question #3?

Yes, yes, I know. The answers to questions 2 and 4 couldn’t be automatically tabulated, at least, not the first time you administer the survey. But which is more important — automated tabulation or useful information?

Even if you only ask questions #1 and #3, just knowing how much money employees would be willing to give up in exchange for a better work environment would give business leaders at all levels a lot to chew on.

Starting with this question: Does it matter?

It ought to matter a lot. It’s widely recognized that the best employees are at least twice as effective as average ones, and the gap is probably much wider than that.

The best employees are also the most mobile. Add to this another general-purpose factoid: Replacing a good employee costs the equivalent of about a year of compensation, counting recruiting costs, the costs of bringing new employees up to speed on their responsibilities, and the overall loss of team effectiveness as teams adjust to changes in their membership.

Do the math and it should be clear that losing your best employees is an expensive proposition.

And yet, I often run into companies whose employees privately tell me are utter meat grinders — horrible places to work. They have high employee turnover, as we’d predict, and yet they make so much money so quickly they have a hard time figuring out what to do with it all, and have over spans of decades.

How is this possible? The short answer is, beats me. The longer answer is nothing but speculation: The same management characteristics that make these companies bad places to work somehow make them resilient in the face of high employee turnover rates.

Take, for example, micromanagement. I’ve yet to hear anyone say they like being micromanaged. But whatever their flaws, micromanagers do know how to do the work they’re micromanaging. If they didn’t they couldn’t micromanage. And because they’re able to do the work, micromanagers can pick up the slack when an employee leaves.

Of course, picking up the slack adds pressure and workload, making the micromanager even less pleasant to work for.

Let the process play out for a few cycles and what you’ll get, I think, is a department staffed by mediocrities who can’t easily find better employment, run by managers for whom micromanagement is integral to how their department’s work gets done.

It’s a stable configuration. As long as the company does something else well enough to make it competitive in its marketplace, there are no forces in play to drive change and plenty in play to keep it as it is.

My guess is that similar dynamics govern other forms of stable, bad management.

If you’re one of the offending managers, please don’t take this as an endorsement of your management style. Explanation doesn’t equal approval.

And in any event, I’m just speculating. Maybe one of KJR’s more enlightened constituents has a better theory?

Let’s see if we can pull this all together.

In recent weeks we’ve talked about teams and team dynamics. We’ve talked about the too-often perverse relationship between knowledge and certainty. We’ve talked about culture and how its self-reinforcing nature can result in appalling behavior just as it can help bring out the best in people.

Teams, as described here from time to time, are groups of people who trust each other, and are aligned to a common purpose.

Toss in some additional reflection and discussions with various correspondents over the past few weeks and it’s clear that while trust and alignment are important team-ness ingredients, they aren’t the whole recipe.

Another is interdependence. In the world of sports, members of baseball, football, and basketball teams depend on each other move-by-move to get the job done. Golfers competing in the Ryder Cup, in contrast, do root for each other, but don’t nudge the ball when nobody’s looking. Likewise tennis players in the Davis Cup who presumably don’t use mirrors to try to blind members of opposing teams from the stands.

The world of business can be even more extreme: Many companies pit members of the so-called “sales team” against each other in the quest to receive the sales incentives that only go to the top 10% of producers.

And some business leaders still buy into the old MBO (management by objectives) method of setting management goals, assuring that each manager will do whatever it takes to achieve his or her objectives whether or not it’s at the expense of other members of the “management team” trying to achieve their goals.

Does this mean the “sales team” and “management team” are only teams in scare quotes?

Not entirely, because of another ingredient of team-ness. That’s affinity – a shared sense of identity that’s independent of both trust and purpose. Independent, that is, except for a desire to beat other, competing groups.

Which gets us to culture. Shared identity can be and often is independent of trust and purpose. It’s never independent of culture.

Here in KJR-land our working definition of culture is how we do things around here. It’s the informal, unwritten rules the affinity group … the tribe … enforces far more strictly and ruthlessly than HR enforces any of what’s spelled out in the company’s policies and procedures.

Identity politics … tribalism, that is … isn’t limited to politics.

Because if it were, how would you explain soccer riots?

It’s time to connect all this theory to your work-a-day responsibilities as an IT manager.

As the golden rule of engineering is form follows function, start with what you want. I imagine that in most situations, most of the time, you want the men and women who work in your organization to accomplish important results.

Most of the time, they’ll accomplish important results more effectively as a result of teamwork than of working in isolation. So you need to encourage team-building in the trust-and-alignment sense.

But like it or not, achieving trust and alignment is hard work that requires constant, steady leadership. That’s in contrast to achieving an us vs them tribal sense of identity, complete with unwritten rules governing how we do things around here. You’ll get that in spite of your best efforts to prevent it.

What you can do, sometimes, if you’re lucky and the wind is blowing in the right direction, is to channel your employees’ natural tendency to form up into rival tribes, so tribal and team identities coincide, or at least overlap heavily.

It isn’t a perfect solution by any means. Yes, project teams that have a strong sense of tribal identity will work harder and collaborate better internally than employees assigned to a project whose sense of team identity is limited to trust and alignment to a common purpose.

But that same sense of tribal identity will make the team less likely to collaborate with other teams they think of as the them to their own us.

Is there anything you can do to limit the extent to which the tribes take over?

There is. You can keep projects short, so project-based tribes disband before their tribalism starts to dominate the cultural landscape. And, you can populate new project teams cross-functionally, redefining us and them frequently enough to break down tribal animosities faster than new ones can form.

Or, you can do what most managers seem to do: Hope for the best, complementing hope with an occasional lecture about how we’re all on the same team.

That’ll work well.