Every time we do a leadership class or training, we talk about traits of a good leader, and inevitably "integrity" and "loyalty" are almost always traits that are mentioned. In and by themselves, these are fantastic traits, not just for leaders, but as followers and team members. But these positive traits, when pitted against each other can become dysfunctional.
Here's and example of one organization we worked with. Obviously, the real name of the organization has been changed to preserve confidentiality, but the circumstances are all too real. Consider the “ACME Organization” which has three distinct teams (A, B, and C) whose members always work only with their own team members and not with anyone from the other teams. Each team is equally qualified and capable to complete the mission and functions of the
organization, and when clients are asked, they can't specifically tell the difference in service level or quality from one team performance to the other. So the performance seen by the clientele is always the same, and that was reported as good.
However when they are brought together to try to work on “organization-wide” problems, or conditions of focus, they start to complain about the other team’s members, start accusing the other teams, and even refuse to work with members of the other teams. In extreme cases there is evidence of sabotage to each other.
A secondary factor is the team leaders work only with their team and also don't interact with the other teams unless they absolutely are forced by circumstances, which may or may not encourage interaction of the teams, and may also support their team's position. Another factor to consider was that two of the three team leaders didn't like each other. Primarily caused by loyalty to each other on their teams, the members of the individual teams didn't recognize that the integrity of the organization was at risk because of the unwillingness of the teams to work together.
Let's take a look at how this can happen...
Loyalty is a quality of being loyal, faithfulness to commitments or obligations, faithful adherence to a person or cause. When we consider being loyal, we are choosing to maintain our faithfulness to our commitments or obligations. This is usually a good trait and something that we teach our children and grandchildren as a noble way of behaving. This is an "instrumental value," meaning it is how we want to treat others and want to be treated.
Integrity is adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character, of being whole, entire, or undiminished, a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition. Likewise, having integrity in yourself, your organization, your ethics is also a positive trait. Integrity can be either an instrumental value, or a "terminal value," meaning how we want the end state to be...whole, complete, sound, etc.
THE CONDITION OF FOCUS: Both are equally noble in themselves, but when pitted against each other, people are made to choose between being loyal (usually to a person or team, group, etc.), and having integrity (usually to the organization).
HOW IT HAPPENS: As members of the organization, if the team members are very cohesive, either by more frequent interaction, longevity of interaction or assignment, or any other possible reasons, and there is little or no interaction or communication between the teams, then they are ripe for dysfunctional loyalty. If there is no change by either the teams, or intervention by the team leaders or organizational leader, then the organization has become dysfunctional and fractured into multiple mini-organizations that are more focused on their own goals, rather than the goals of the organization. With this fracturing the entire organization is at risk of structural collapse, in essence it has lost its integrity.
How do you prevent it?
Very much like creating cohesion within the individual teams, the leaders need to increase interaction and communication across the teams. To do this, use S.T.I.C.K.U.M. (Sacrifice, Teamwork, Interaction, Competition, Keep Members Focused, Unique Norms and Symbols, and Missions) organization-wide to create organizational cohesion and avoid the organizational integrity collapse by allowing the individual teams to separate and fester.
Sacrifice. Appeal to and display “personal sacrifice” toward group endeavors as the leader.
Teamwork. Look for opportunities requiring group cooperation & teamwork for group success.
Interaction. Provide more opportunities for interaction and communication among all group members.
Competition. Create competition with outside groups.
Keep members focused. On group activities and purpose.
Unique Norms and Symbols. Reinforce a group’s identity with special apparel or with special behaviors/ privileges.
Missions. Provide unique challenging group missions or projects, either assigned or extra duty/voluntary requirements.
What if it is already happening?
Since this is a form of team conflict, using many of the team conflict strategies will help, such as: Establishing liaison groups, introducing superordinate goals (preferably the organizational goals), forcing members to work together, or even problem solving mediation.
Establishing Liaison Groups. Proactive strategy where a leader acts to prevent or reduce the chances of conflict by forming a group with representatives from all groups to identify and resolve potential conflict.
Introducing Superordinate Goals. This is a conflict management strategy where a leader identifies an overarching goal that requires conflicting groups to achieve an objective critically important to all groups, but that can only be achieved through intergroup cooperation.
Forcing is a strategy where a leader mandates a solution to groups that are experiencing conflict with each other.
Problem Solving is a strategy where a leader (or third-party mediator) brings members of conflicting groups together to identify, discuss, and resolve intergroup conflict after conflict has developed.
The leader can also choose Avoidance which is a strategy where the leader monitors the conflict, but does not get involved in its resolution allowing the conflict to run its course and/or those in conflict to resolve it. However this is super dangerous to the integrity of the organization if splintering is already happening.
THEN do what is described in how to prevent it.
Putting it all together...
For a leader it is important to keep the balance between loyalty and integrity, because unchecked, the goals of the organization can become secondary and even threatened if there the loyalty to individuals, teams, groups, cliques, etc., become more significant to the individual members over the integrity of the organization.
Quotes to Put into Practice…
"The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting and a trainer/coach/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris retired as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations for Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service.