If organizations are like zoos, what does this mean for a consultant?

In organizations, the best and worst of human natures’ forces are at play.

Along with compensation, the achievements and innovations of organizational life, organizations are also zoos where Darwin’s battle for the survival of the fittest transpires.

The ability to cooperate and communicate along with selfishness, back-stabbing deception and manipulation live side by side.

Several factors impact between the positive and negative:

  • The worst the economic situation is, the more likely it is that negative behaviour will dominate as managers often almost cannibalize one another in an effort to survive.
  • The personality of the CEO and the staffing of key management positions have an impact on the precarious balance between good and bad. It must be noted that people who reach the top are often the master of Darwinism.
  • The technology itself often impacts the balance between the forces. A software shop,a call center, an accountancy firm and a System Integrator will all strike a different balance because the need for cooperative behaviours in getting the job done varies.

The consultant is often called in to change the balance between positive and negative. So it is important to ask with what basic assumptions about human behaviour do (and should) consultants bring to the table in order to tinker with the balance.

Some consultants behave like born againers, preachers, and yes-we caners, raw rawing the employees to set aside their bad behaviours and see the Lord. Many coachers, change consultants, traditional OD consultants and OD-product vendors fall in the category. Members of the OD establishment also dwell herein, because it is such a good selling point.

Other consultants try to remain neutral, pragmatically accessing each situation for its merit.

Others, like me, prefer to assume that egoism, back-stabbing, bad politics etc. are like pain, which need to be accepted and managed as part of the system. Not only can these negatives not be driven away, these negatives are enablers and a legitimate part of the eco system of human organizing. No cheerleading or rosy optimism can drive them away. Like the animal keeper, the consultant should know/respect context in which the lion operates.

(This is time for me to “thank” the pain I feel as a daily runner. Were the pain not to have slowed me down, I would have been dead long ago.)


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Besides consulting, I am the keeper of Georges, who watches me write the blog

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3 thoughts on “If organizations are like zoos, what does this mean for a consultant?

    • What I am saying is that if one has modest goals, the chance of success is higher.
      And also, part of these “negative” goings on are side effects of people with power, which every organization needs.

  1. A few years back, my brother, a game protection officer, faced a mad and loud crowd of animal protection lobbyists who were protesting a planned “culling” (read: “killing”) of deers on an island. After a few minutes of explanation as to how the deer colony was dying from an inborn illness due the fact that there were no natural predators on the island, he left the room to get a few statistics he had prepared. As he left the room, he locked the door and turned the air conditionning off. It took a mere 5 minutes for the group to start infighting. He came back to a fury of screaming blames and accusations to which he responded: “Notice the intensity of your anger towards me for leaving you on this little island, a space too small for the number of people here. That’s how the deer colony is suffering. Unlike you, they have no door to exit from and no air conditionning to cool them Just think about this when the “culling” will start.”
    It requires a lot of humility to stand with the mystery of how organizations and people work . There are so many species and different life systems for each.

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