Beset by torrential rains last week, I settled in to watch a marathon of “Downton Abbey,” a brilliant English period drama, circa 1912. Outside of all the pomp and circumstance, I was intrigued by a strong theme of integrity — or lack of it — running through the social strata.
Integrity is that which makes structures strong and whole, whether physical structures or organizational ones. (Grit is firmness of character.)
You could say within the organization of the show, there are two social groups: the lord and lady with their three daughters, and the staff — about 10 of them.
The lord and lady appear as relatively decent nobility so far, and despite their “master” mentality, they treat the staff well. Most of the staff appears to appreciate them and desires to remain employed there. One “renegade” wants to move past being a servant and seek her livelihood as a secretary. While she gets support from one of the daughters, what I find interesting is how her colleagues seem offended, want to keep her down and tell her she is no one to escape her “lot in life.” How often does it happen in “real life” that when someone else is pursuing their dreams, their very social group does not support them? It’s as if when one wants to move on, members of the current group interpret it personally, as if they themselves are not good enough.
Applicable to our own organizations, some other observations on the society the staff has created in the “back of the house” are worth noting — specifically, the kind of behavior that creates chaos and threatens the ability of the entire organization to run optimally.
What you find around the staff dining table is:
- Gossip: Brings organizations down and threatens infrastructure
- Bullying: Focusing on someone’s perceived weakness to strengthen our view of ourselves
- Ostracizing: Making differences wrong
- Lies and betrayal: Sacrificing someone for our own gain
- Maintaining status quo at all costs: Holding tight to the past because change is threatening
Integrity cannot always be seen easily in a structure, whether physical or organizational. Best to test its integrity now and then. How? Teach how to interview for it, create structures to applaud it and learn how to walk in its shoes.