If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.
This quote from Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in Improving Performance, sums up many of the symptoms of hierarchical systems, whether they be schools, businesses or prisons.
I believe that the great work to be done at the beginning of this century is to create new organisational models that reflect our humanity. Efficiency and effectiveness are not enough, and in many cases have become mechanistic. It’s time to discard industrial management models that emphasize command and control and ensure that individuals at all levels have opportunities to engage in and question the system.
One of the subjects in the television program was a 7th grade teacher who explained that she didn’t stop shocking the learner because as a teacher she had learned when a student’s complaints were phony. I thought to myself, “Has she electrocuted many students?”
The teacher asked the researcher, “There isn’t going to be any lawsuit from this medical facility, right?” When told that the teacher was not liable, she replied, “That’s what I needed to know.” It is however worth noting that this was after she induced the maximum shock and the learner demanded that the experiment be terminated.
In this interview, Dr. Philip Zimardo discusses the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, where students played their roles as guards or prisoners and abuses started within 24 hours:
But on the second morning, the prisoners rebelled; the guards crushed the rebellion and then instituted stern measures against these now “dangerous prisoners”. From then on, abuse, aggression, and eventually sadistic pleasure in degrading the prisoners became the daily norm. Within thirty-six hours the first prisoner had an emotional breakdown and had to be released, followed in kind by similar prisoner breakdowns on each of the next four days.
As Churchill said, “First we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us”. This reminds me of the question about who is the most important person on board a ship. Is it the Captain, the Navigator or the Engineer? Actually, it’s the Architect, because the initial design influences everything else.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you cannot change the way things work in an organisation. The problem may be the organisational model itself and it may be better to leave and create an alternative model than to help keep a flawed one going.