The Stanford Prison Experiment
This infamous experiment studied the psychological effects a
prison setting could have on behaviour. In 1971, a mock prison was constructed
in the basement of the psychology building of Stanford University and 24 male
students were randomly selected to play the role of either a prisoner or prison
guard for two weeks. The students adapted to their roles a little too well,
becoming aggressive to the point of inflicting psychological torture. Even
psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, who acted as superintendent of the
experiment, proved susceptible to its effects by allowing the abuse to
continue. The study was called off after only six days due to its intensity,
but it proved that situations could provoke certain behaviours, in spite of an
individual’s natural tendencies.
Although outlawed in every Enterprise, bullying is still
rife within Enterprises worldwide.
Bullying in this context relates to the abuse of power over
It is also related to forcing people to do things or work in
ways that they know to be wrong or inefficient. This usually goes hand in hand
with blaming the same individuals for the problems that arise.
Hiding Information / Problems
This behaviour usually occurs at management levels and
prevents bad news from being transported up the food chain.
It is usually the troops on the ground that can sense things
going wrong first. This is usually the first sign that a project is going wrong
in some way. What can happen is that these messages can get diluted the further
up the food chain they go and sometimes don’t make the leap at all.
Management can feel threatened as they may not understand
what the troops are telling them. Management can also feel that reporting bad
news to their superiors will reflect badly on them as they are ultimately
Accountable for the work carried out by the people who report to them. Having
started to hide or not communicate things, it can be difficult if not
impossible to then begin reporting as things get progressively worse for fear
of being asked “Why didn’t you report this three months ago when it first
started going wrong?” a phrase that I am sure many of us have heard over the
“The physics definition of power is 'The ability to do
work'; many social definitions of power are more like 'The ability to avoid
work'. Therein lie many practical problems…”
- Tom Graves
Do people in your Enterprise
Can you think of examples
where this has happened in the past?
Who were they? What was the
impact? Why do you think they acted in this way?
What needs to change to reduce
the likelihood of it happening in the future?
Who needs to drive that