Truly innocent mistakes are an issue for quality assurance, not a question of integrity.
‘Mistakes’ that are made with the intention of cutting corners, are something else. On the face of it, such cutting of corners is usually for the good of the company, or the department - never for personal gain. This apparent altruism – doing it for the team - makes it easier for others to turn a blind eye or play along.
Looking closer, it’s a scam. The reasons for cutting corners are, with rare exception, quite personal: To hit that target and earn that bonus, be promoted or not get fired. To look good or at least better. To cover up past mistakes.
Each case is different. But when the damage is done and things have blown up, the story that emerges is familiar: General disbelief that this could go on for so long, often for years. Many must have colluded. Many more must or at least could have known. How can this be amongst perfectly normal, ‘good’ people?
So, what is at play here? Probably something all too human. Greed may be involved. But it does not explain why others who have nothing to gain play along for so long.
Most major scandals feature hundreds of meetings where matters relevant to the scandal were discussed and agreed. If one believes the minutes, in these many meetings, critical objections were not raised, critical questions not asked.
This is where MeetingSphere comes in. Meetings are our business.
Meetings are where people interact and act as an organization. Meetings matter. However, if meetings fail to bring out the objections and questions that could stop major embarrassments or even disasters in the making, there must be something very wrong with them. If meetings are even instrumental in enforcing the kind of Omertá that lets corruption fester for years, their purpose has been subverted.
After a brief analysis of how corruption spreads, this page explains how MeetingSphere can empower people in meetings to follow their better instincts: To make that necessary objection. To ask those difficult questions. On the record and ideally before the ‘good people’ go rogue (fast forward).
Once it has taken hold, corruption spreads like any other rot. Let’s look at two mechanisms by which this happens.
You should have spoken earlier – now you’re one of us
In the beginning, someone cutting a corner often looks innocent. Surely there is a totally harmless explanation. It is probably one-off. After all, there is oversight. Superiors. More senior colleagues. Surely it is not up to me to raise a stink. But when it happens again, or conclusions become hard to avoid, I am already complicit: Surely, I could have raised the matter earlier? Why did I let it go on? On the other hand, as it has gone on for a while, there is no reason to rock the boat just now. Why not think it over for another week? Moreover, the boss must be in on it. So, who to turn to? Write to the boss’s boss? Make an appointment? Giving what reason? What if she asks me if I’m absolutely sure? Where’s my evidence? What if she contacts my boss?
All very difficult. Thank god, it’s Friday.
This comes in many subtle variations. It need not be you who should have spoken earlier. It can be your colleagues. All good people. But while you may be new to the department, they’ve let this go on for so long. If you now speak out, they’re all in for it. Possibly, blowing the whistle now will cause more damage than letting things go. I mean, it’s not as if we’re killing someone.
Perhaps I should apply for a transfer. Just need to think of something plausible.
And then something crosses your desk and you face the choice to either suddenly speak out after all or go along and tick that box or give that signature - and you’re caught. A fully signed up member of the gang.
Social control in meetings
Few have the nerve to accuse colleagues in writing or ask for an appointment with someone up in the hierarchy to point a finger. So, what about meetings? In meetings, related topics come up all the time! Surely that's the occasion to raise an objection or ask an innocent question?
Well, in reality, as meetings are, unfortunately, they are not. In meetings, there are powerful social factors at play which keep people from speaking out. These social factors also prevent other participants from backing up those who speak out. Much easier to just stare at the table!
As discussed in detail on another page (more), many people already feel inhibited even in everyday meetings where the personal stakes are objectively low. They find it hard to share what they really think and know. Worse, they find it hard to keep an open mind and actually listen when the wrong person says something they don’t like to hear.
These inhibiting factors take on a new dimension when the stakes are high and there are secrets. When the consequences of not playing ball are likely to be personal. When someone asking the wrong question must expect to be stared down, as in "I don't think this is the place to ask that question. If it really interests you, come see me in my office". Or that someone with more clout will instantly shift the blame, as in “Do you really want to be responsible for your colleagues losing their jobs?” or “The auditors say everything is fine. And YOU tell us it’s not?” or perhaps “None of us likes this and nobody in this room has started it. Now do you want us all to hang for it? I thought you have kids in college, too.”
Reality is, of course, more subtle. Such things need not be said. They are understood. The chilling rationale applies to all around the table. Don’t expect anybody to say ‘yes’ when asked something like: “John, do you also think that we’re all criminals here?” and then “What about you, Tim?”, “Anybody?”. Again, this need not be said. It plays in the mind.
Even if objections are raised, there are usually ways to keep them out of the minutes. The chairperson can simply say something like “Tim, you need not take this down” putting the person who spoke out on the spot. That person must now escalate and insist on having it all written down thereby inevitably killing what might - at least in theory - have become an open conversation.
All seems a bit outlandish? If you want evidence, dig a little deeper into the forensics of any recent scandal. Choose your industry. Somehow, there were hundreds of relevant meetings, but, miraculously, there’s nothing on record.
Recent years have seen spectacular cases of whistleblowing and significant legislation on the topic, largely to protect legitimate Whistleblowers and offer them anonymity. There have also been plenty of frontpage cases where the whistle was not blown before litigators or prosecutors stepped in.
Most people generally agree that whistleblowing is a good thing, because it puts an end to the rot and usually does less damage than waiting for the regulators or the police to come knocking. However, these same people tend not to be so sure when things are closer to home. Most would
discourage their sons and daughters from becoming a whistleblower
prefer the boat not to be rocked just now in that way. Won’t the scandal do even greater damage?
have second thoughts about someone snitching on colleagues
Plenty of ambivalence here, and plenty of people willing to shift the blame to the messenger.
No wonder, that pressure must often build over years before someone brave finds the situation impossible to tolerate any longer. When that moment comes, much of the damage has been done and, yes, the scandal will add to that.
As it kicks in far too late, whistleblowing can never be more than a safety valve. It may limit the damage. It is not a solution that ensures integrity and compliance.
Compliance requires mechanisms that intervene directly when people go rogue and matters get off the rails. Timeliness is of the essence since corrective action becomes harder as corruption spreads.
When looking for leverage points for such corrective mechanisms, meetings are an obvious choice. Few things happen in organizations which aren’t discussed, agreed and reviewed in meetings. If people can call out corruption when it is first contemplated or still fresh and limited, silence cannot descend, the vicious circle of corruption breeding corruption is stopped, integrity instantly restored. Conceptually, the remedy is almost trivial: If it doesn’t require heroism, enough people will take a stand and speak out. Others will confirm. If it’s all on the record, the barriers against corruption become formidable, indeed.
Fortunately, MeetingSphere provides for all three required interventions:
People can share what they think
Groups can confirm what is the case
Documentation is verbatim and automatic
Even better, use of MeetingSphere is not an extra burden, not something to endure for the sake of compliance. Instead, MeetingSphere makes everybody’s lives easier. It pays for itself with greater productivity and better results. From the perspective of Operations, compliance is just a welcome side effect.
Best of all, by providing meeting templates, organizations can ensure that required steps are taken, and certain questions asked in any important type of meeting.
Intervention 1: Let people share what they think
Use of MeetingSphere empowers participants to say what they (really) think in several ways:
Everybody can contribute at will
Unlike a conventional meeting, nobody has to wait their turn to speak (more). Unlike a conventional meeting, specific individuals cannot be shut up by ‘overlooking’ them until the conversation has moved on.
Anonymity lets people speak out
For many reasons (more), MeetingSphere workspaces default to anonymous contribution. This anonymity is enforced ‘on the metal’ of the application and instinctively trusted by participants. As a consequence, ‘hot potatoes’, awkward ideas, facts, opinions or question are disclosed directly. Participants reflect on such hot potatoes without personal prejudice and do not hesitate to respond with questions, counter or supportive arguments and facts.
Prioritization by the group
With MeetingSphere, groups can express what they deem worth discussing. This can be off-the-cuff by placing ‘sticky dots’ (anonymously) or by formal rating (anonymously). Straight leaders of meetings welcome this to increase the relevance, focus and output of their meetings. It also makes it much harder to contrive and impose agendas that skirt the issues.
Intervention 2: Let groups confirm what is the case
Of course, not every supposedly hot potato is truly hot or based on fact and – let’s enjoy this mix of metaphors - groups must not let themselves be chased around in the pursuit of red herrings. In a conventional setting, this poses a problem: If you begin to discuss it, you may already be chasing that red herring. Moreover, as we seen above, asking individuals to back up a difficult fact is problematic. On the other hand, if you ignore that supposed hot potato, well, that's exactly what someone with something to hide would do.
Fortunately, with MeetingSphere, there are several ways in which groups can verify and confirm what is the case:
Rating facts or opinions
Any list of items can be rated (more) on any criterion, for instance, ‘importance’ or ‘relevance’ or plain ‘is the case’. Groups understand instinctively – but can, of course, be instructed explicitly – that something that is not the case cannot be important.
Marking up comments in need of further information
Participants can markup contributions to a discussion with sticky dots, for instance, as ‘Fact’, ‘Untrue’ and ‘More info needed’.
Commenting and questioning directly
The most direct way of confirming (or refuting) an opinion or supposed fact is by commenting on it directly. With the ability to respond at will, anonymously, few groups let lies, half-truths or surprising/awkward facts pass uncommented and unquestioned.
Intervention 3: Put it on the record
All MeetingSphere workspaces (more) are self-documenting.
Self-documenting means that the instructions of the leader (chairperson) and the contributions of the participants are automatically included verbatim in the Meeting report (more on the Word report).