Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Is morality conditioned by group behavior?


Until last week, my office was spread across two facilities in the Tech Park and we had to constantly shuttle around these two facilities. The move to a new single facility was a welcome decision for everyone, as it would ease communication among projects & improve efficiency. Further we were moving to a new 10 storey building, where we would occupy the entire 4th floor; an added advantage was that it was next to food court!

As per plan, we moved yesterday; I walked up to the elevators in the ground floor (GF) - there were 8 of them. I waited patiently as elevator after elevator came filled with people from Upper and Lower Basement (LB). At last I managed to squeeze in

Lunch time came and seeing everyone in our floor moving towards the elevator, we, a group of four, tried to take the stairs, only to find that it was locked and the security personnel refused to open it. The only way out was the elevators

Our premonition guided us to quickly push through the crowd and stand right next to the elevators. The nearest was in the 7th floor and it was halting at every floor, when it reached the 4th floor, needless to say it was packed and I could almost visualize people taking a deep breath before the door closed. The other elevators were on 10th, 3rd and various other floors

Our patience was running out... my friend suggested, why don't we go up the 'almost crowded' elevator, so that we could travel back to the ground floor. I strongly opposed the idea on grounds of morality... we waited, waited and waited... finally chucking our morality, we got into an elevator which was going up. We traveled all the way to 9th floor with only one or two people actually alighting; we stopped at each floor amidst glaring people waiting for the lift and traveled all the way down again stopping at each floor. My friend looked at me in triumph with an expression that meant "Look I told You!". It had taken us 20 minutes to reach the ground floor... no kidding

Once we were done with our break, we observed crowds of people getting into the lift which was going to Lower Basement... being wiser now, we decided to employ our clever trick and joined the group... when it reached LB, there were a group of people waiting for us to alight the lift, but not one of us alighted. It then dawned on us that none of the co-passengers intended to go to LB, they were all using our strategy

So while leaving for the day, we felt less guilty to apply the same strategy. I pleasantly asked around if this was the situation or if our company's movement had caused this imbalance

"My office is in the 2nd floor and I most often travel all the way to 10th to reach the Ground Floor" was a young man's reply

Applying this strategy, we had reduced our time to reach GF from 20 minutes to 10 minutes sans the guilt of 'lack of morality'

This got me thinking of how the 4000 odd employees behavior in this building was conditioned to suit the environment. The same happens to an organization in the name of Organization Culture. Everyone contributes to it, yet it is from no single person. I felt my behavior immoral in the morning; by evening I was conditioned to think otherwise

How does one change this group behavior? Is there a way to make people follow order and only use the right elevator, given the same constraint of no staircase? The issue may be trivial but answer to this will be the solution to change negative organizational behaviors haunting companies

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