We’re delighted to have a regular contribution to our blog from Darryl Mead, Employee Engagement & Internal Communications Consultant with The Team in London.  Darryl was Internal Communications Manager with The Warehouse and Warehouse Stationery in NZ before venturing forth to make his mark on the world at large. Darryl is part of our global network of people and organisations working to make the world a better (work) place. You can follow him @dbmcnz

Following two days of constant sirens around London, when I saw the riot vans racing past my street, I assumed looting had finally broken out in my south-east London suburb. I set up a Tweetdeck column to follow the local story and quickly saw there had been a stabbing, sports stores emptied, windows smashed and it had all “kicked-off” just around the corner down the main street. I regularly shop there and wondered why our community was smashing up our community. Opportunity aside, what had sparked this group of locals to come together and act like this?

That got me thinking about what happened in the London riots (most of which seemed to be just opportunistic looting and stealing) and whether this herd behaviour could spread and if there were any parallels in organisations. Read on and you’ll see how I made this connection. During the riots I saw a couple of things:

1. People acting criminally by taking things they perceived to be denied.

Does this happen within organisations?  Is it the same as absenteeism, dodgy expense claims, taking stationery, and time on Facebook?  Are these things deemed acceptable behaviour because everyone does it and they feel entitled to get something back at some stage?

2. People defiantly rejecting those who had taken something away and trying to reclaim or start a community.

Employees can often stand up for something they all strongly believe in with strikes, walk-outs and peer groups. Mostly these communities develop in a ‘them against us’ culture. It’s seems far less common that a group of strangers will come together around a positive cause.  What surfaced post-riot were teams and communities of people who decided to take action. Broom armies turned up to clean up the mess left by others. A call to action was put on Twitter (#riotcleanup), people met, worked together and reclaimed their community and local businesses responded with rewards of free food and drinks. That proved that it was indeed possible to bring complete strangers together in a sense of unity around a common goal.  Social media has been talked about within organisations for years now but aren’t broom armies the opportunity that exists?

  • Create a call to action that resonates with a diverse group of people
  • Empower them to meet up and connect in their own way
  • Allow them to work together creating their own rules; and
  • Reward them for their efforts.

Aside from witnessing, first-hand, the criminally-motivated groups followed quickly by the positive-change groups in action, I observed some other great things:

  • Deep discussion and reflection
    • Reflection by everyone on deeper societal issues not frequently discussed
    • Unfortunate segregation into ‘them and us’ with an assumption that us is right
    • Ill-considered opinions and judgement borne out of lack of facts, ignorance of differing values or ethnic backgrounds
  • A return to the value of values
    • Almost everyone drew upon their personal values in sharing their opinions
    • People united with those who shared similar values – read: those who thought they had a proper upbringing vs. everyone else
    • It demonstrated how important our values are in guiding our actions
  • Greater communication
    • People talked a lot, even with strangers, about something that was very important to them and their lives; and
    • Every taxi driver asked me where I lived and was I affected.  Since when do strangers care for my suburb or safety?  This is a good thing.

I didn’t consider that the London riots, a turning point for the UK, would have any parallels for our business, but when I stood back, listened, watched and contributed it was obvious there was a lot to learn. I can guarantee your business is thinking about how to create communities, how to improve collaboration, the importance of values and improved communication. There’s a fundamental shift taking place in society as now, people are able to communicate with strangers, build trust, take action and even change laws while sitting in front of their computers and maintaining their anonymity. Perhaps it’s time to allow employees to do the same?

Finally, here is one of the most heartening images of positive action from Peckham, South London. The residents created a ‘wall of love” on the boards of a smashed local business window with Post-it notes of support for their community. The council has decided to preserve it for good at the local library.