Got a Suggestion? LO12075

JC Howell (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:35:25 +0000

Replying to LO12059 --

In LO12059 Peter Jones wrote:

> > The real question to me is whether or not the management team and
> > the workers of any given organization are mature enough to take a chance
> > on success. Are they willing to accept the ownership of their
> > individual and collective futures? Are they willing to expose and
> > eliminate the silent conspiracy that exists between them to create
> > conditions that they each despise?
> Good to be reminded about Deming's views on driving out fear.
> I'm not sure I understand the concept of a "silent conspiracy" in the
> context we are discussing? Can you clarify your thinking for me? This is
> a very interesting thought? Are you talking about a mutual reluctance to
> change things? Or something that is specific to certain organisational
> cultures? Is this based on research you have done?

The concept of a silent conspiracy is based on experience within and
observing a number of organizations of different types. One name for this
is groupthink. ANother is the phenomenon Argyris calls "organizational
defensive routines." The idea is that management and workers conspire
with each other to maintain the status quo. The problems currently eating
everyone alive are obviously due to the current situation. No one can see
this, though, due to basic human personality dynamics.

These same dynamics get in the way of change when the connection between
the current situation and the problems is made clear FOR everyone by
either an outside party or a bold insider. Rather than admit that they
made a mistake, or that things are simply no longer working, workers and
management will punish the source of this information by various means.
Then they will throw themselves with great abandon into the search for a
fix to the situation. The fixes that get tried are all based on the
current situation, which is guaranteed to fail, and are all aimed at
maintaining the current social and power/control relationships.

A manager who admits that s/he made a mistake is in danger of either being
declared incompetent. If they allow workers to have a significant say in
the fix, they may be declared obsolete. Rather than be declared
incompetent or obsolete, managers seek to maintain the facade of

Workers who get management to let them participate and contribute
essentially take control of, and responsibility for, their own futures.
This means that they are the ones who are accountable when things don't go
well. Rather than have to face the consequences of their own actions,
workers will seek to pass the blame and responsibility on to management
("They" have to do something to fix this).

When these two dynamics meet, everyone maintains their comfort zone, each
has someone else to blame when things go wrong, everyone saves face in the
long run, and a conspiracy is formed to maintain the status quo.

What makes this so difficult to deal with is that no one is consciously
aware (or will admit, anyway) that they are a part of this conspiracy.
Such self-delusion amounts to a silent conspiracy.

I have seen this in every type of organization I have observed. Those
that get past this are those who mature enough to get past the ego
defenses that are involved in this little drama. They can own the past,
set it aside, and focus on the task of getting well. unfortunately, these
organizations are pretty rare these days. And, of course, the reasons for
this is another silent conspiracy between us all that allows money to play
such a significant role in defining status, prestige, success, wholeness,
and so on. When money is not AS prevalent, the struggle for political
power takes over.

I was once told that there is no limit to what we can achieve ... if we
don't care who gets the credit. Good words to live by. Hard words to
live up to.


Clyde Howell

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