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How to promote decency in any organisation

It takes more than good intentions to have a pleasant and successful workplace, school or organisation. You need the right structures, policies and procedures to help people get things done and ensure everyone is treated with respect. However you also need to be able to deal with issues effectively. Below is some ways in which you can promote a healthy organisation and minimise some of the risk factors.
  • Spread power around (Westhues, 2004)
Concentration of power can lead to things going wrong. The life cycle stage at which the organisation is at can mean the establishment of a hierarchy which leads to power concentration. By not having some type of countervailing power or checks and balances this enables the leadership to have unfettered power. The type of leadership styles used then becomes a really important factor and a poor personal style can flow through the organisation affecting its culture. If bullying behaviours occur it may go unchecked or become the norm. By promoting the spread of power this reduces the risk of one leadership style dominating.

  • Provide feedback, coaching and training in effective personal leadership styles
Leaders and their leadership style have a role to play in how others act. If leaders use styles that are self-aggrandising, exploiting others for personal gain, self-interested, focused on personal power, use poor communication and use or allow abusive behaviour this sets the ball rolling. Others see this example and follow it. They feel they are justified in using this as it will be rewarded through leadership positions and seen as acceptable practice. Ensure all leaders are mentored to help them remove any issue. Even leaders need to learn new skills and continue to grow.

  • Minimise a zero-sum culture (Westhues, 2004)
A win at all costs culture where someone has to loose for another to win leads to problems. Having outcomes and processes that work to this type of thinking promote in and out groups which leads to bullying and mobbing. When dealing with issues avoid setting up quasi-judicial tribunals (Westhues, 2004) which then try and find a scapegoat. Negotiation and dispute resolution processes serve better if they look for reconciliation and developing positive change and cooperation.

  • Discourage a culture that is adversarial and legalistic (Westhues, 2004)
This is fed by sum-zero thinking and establishes processes where each party has to beat the adversary. Rather than trying to find a solution to problems it tries to find who is to blame. Rather than trying to find a remedy it looks to punish. It is difficult to engage people into these processes because no solution is really looked for. They feel unprepared to use the system and generally have to give away control to someone who has the 'knowledge' or the 'authority' to represent them. Many problems start from minor issues and people do not feel it is warranted or needed to use a legalistic processes to solve it. This allows it to go unsolved and fester until in reaches a point where it does require serious intervention. Informal and easy to use processes when it was still a minor issue would save a lot of work and heartache later on.

  • Promote positive group culture
Ensure that each group within the organisation and the organisation as a whole value teamwork and working to help each other. A culture of togetherness, everyone succeeding, no one being the single winner and supporting others is what is needed. Celebrating difference and diversity ensure very one feels welcome. Have a focus of everyone being included means less change of others being seeing as the out-group which can lead to bullying behaviours.

  • Avoid internal mediators (Westhues, 2004)
"An effective mediator is committed to truth, fairness, give and take, productivity, quality, efficiency." Using internal “neutral” mediators may not work out as planned. They are embedded into the organisational culture and may not be as neutral as they should be. This can mean they usually side with whoever has the upper hand or who seems to best represent the prevailing organisational culture or managements view. Get external help for difficult issues.

  • Provide opportunities for communication and dialogue (Westhues, 2004)
"If people have the chance to voice concerns, air differences, listen to one another, and seek common ground, the threat of mobbing is reduced." Effective communication is key to resolving any difficulties and problems. There needs to be informal and formal means of being able to share and communicate. That way minor problems can generally be resolved quickly and easily. For more difficult problems having processes that allow solution focused discussions that do not blame or punish is vital.

  • Establish a culture of ensuring job security
It can be tempting to think that if people think their job is on the line they will work harder. But they could just decide to "work" smarter by sabotaging others work. That way they can be seen to be the better worker and gain better job security. But really what they are doing is just undermining and damaging productivity and making the organisation less effective and/or profitable. Each person you need to recruits costs time and money. If people are happy and know that they have some security they work better. By investing in people you retain experience. By being up front about job tenure and security you help the group members to develop a positive culture.

I think the words that best sums up what organisations need to try and do is to ensure everyone acts with respect and acts reasonably.

Reference and quotes:
Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology, University of Waterloo, Canada
Summary for the workplace mobbing conference - Novotel, Brisbane, 14-15 October 2004
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