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Other side of groupwork: Tendency to be corrupt?

BY: Dr Enyonan Canice Kudonoo
File photo
File photo

“… the natural habitat of man is the group… The basic antagonism is between the individual’s commitment to himself—to his own needs, beliefs, and ambitions—and his yearning for psychological submersion in a group, … Submersion brings a measure of security and a sense of connectedness and belonging, but it also … obstructs the attainment of any goal which is not shared, and may, in other respects, demand a sacrifi ce of individual wishes to those of the group.” —Gibbard, Hartman and Mann.

According to Gibbard, Hartman and Mann, humans are created as social beings and as such have a natural affi nity to belong to a group in an organisation they work in, a Church they worship with, or an ethnic group, including other associations they may identify with.

All these groupings enable humans to experience a sense of security and belongingness which is crucial to human existence.
Also, working in groups is benefi cial to organisations because of the ability to deliver larger projects, be more productive, build a community of diverse experiences and complementary expertise.

Yet, the need to belong may place a demand on sacrifi cing personal ethics for unethical desires of the group. Similarly, Dan Ariely opined that group work is a two-edged sword that cuts both ends of the divide with merits and demerits that encourage unethical practices, thereby corrupting members of a group depending on the personalities of the group members, ability to stand for their rights, assigned tasks, and goals.
Research reveals situations where individuals’ desire to be ethical contradicts groups’ desires.

What strategies can such individuals employ to make group members aware of their stand on unethical activities their group members engage in? How can such people manage unethical and management-endorsed group acts? This article briefly discusses this phenomenon using proven and tested ideas by experts of ethics research.

Unethical activities

It is common that in the 21st Century, organisations rely on group activities to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, some organisations use such groups to gratify their relentless greed through unethical activities.

Examples range from interview panel infl ating the scores of unqualified applicants because of nepotism and resultantly put in positions they are unfi t for, thereby worsening the organisation’s productivity; use of company resources including cars for private purposes, infl ation of corporate revenues to create a nonexistent picture of an organisation meant to deceive all stakeholders and ensure its maintenance as in the case of Enron Corporation in the USA and & WorldCom, to tax invasion through over-invoicing or under-invoicing, as well as backdating delayed tasks.

In such organisations, most ethical employees look on helplessly. Mary Gentile, in her article “Managing Yourself: Keeping Your Colleagues Honest”, identifi ed four different ways people, depending on their personality, rationalise ethical problems to stay out of trouble.

The first way is that people often say to themselves, “it is standard practice” — meaning this was how things were done before I was employed so there is nothing, I can do about it. The second excuse for keeping silent is “it’s not a big deal”, — meaning it will not cause any future problems. The third way ethical issues are rationalised by people is that — “it’s not my responsibility”, — I am new; I do not want to incur the wrath of anyone…I was promoted recently and may be demoted if I blow the whistle concerning this wrong act.

Lastly, “I want to be loyal” — meaning the unethical issue is brushed aside by the individual so as to become loyal to colleagues, managers or the organisation and thereby, socialised into inertia.

Unethical group demands

To deal with unethical issues in group settings, it is prudent to study the actors, the situation and appropriate ways of addressing the issue. This is not about acting on impulse and reacting to issues in a rush.

It is about responding with strategies that will bring about change in people’s perception about the need for the right thing.

Mary Gentile’s approach has been woven into other approaches to suggest ways to address unethical issues that crop up in groups.

The ethical individual ought to win some individuals in the group to his/her side using questions designed from the organisation’s accepted values. One should also know it is their responsibility to ensure the right thing is always done using positive words to motivate them. “Be yourself”.

One’s personality and empathy may go a long way to bring about the change they desire. Ask pertinent questions concerning being incriminated and quality of product or service and solicit for answers that may initiate the needed change.

Concretise the long-term effects of unethical acts of all stakeholders. This will make them realise the risk they are about to take.

Provide alternative resolution of unethical issues, and brainstorm with colleagues for more ethical ideas. Have a standard against which to weigh ideas to arrive at the best alternative.

It is imperative to note that it takes a lot of courage, acknowledgment of individual differences, appreciating diversity, honesty, good human relations, wisdom, empathy and good morals for an individual to make others appreciate the need to be ethical.