top of page

The Greater Good — Society versus the Individual. A Change Management Dilemma

individual versus society. which is more important?

An often debated philosophical dilemma is one that sets the common good against individual interests. There are philosophers like Socrates who argue that the society's interest is the greater good and that it should always trump individual interests. There are other philosophers, like Aristotle, who argue that 'it depends' on what the greater good is, and that individual interests should never be completely thrust aside. So here's a real-life dilemma that I have adapted. One that has not yet been resolved. For people who deal with change professionally, or who are interested in human dilemmas, it is an interesting scenario to ponder.

Meet the key players:

Helen: senior manager, manages Jack and Jill. She is a new in the organization and anxious to prove that she can withstand pressure from within the ranks.

Jack: manager of team one. He is warm and nurturing. He has the largest team in the department, and has reached the maximum capacity of staff that he can handle. His team are engaged, consistent hardworking and have motivation to do their best. They are a solid team, who work well together, and who respect one another.

Jill: manager of team two. She is highly energetic and determined. She has the smallest team on the staff, but it is filled with people — like herself — who are competitive and assertive.

Susan: team member in team two. Susan is a very senior team member and individual contributor. She has a direct professional connection to Helen.

John: team member in team two. John is by all means quite obnoxious and aggressive. He is well known across the entire department because he rubs people up the wrong way. He acts before he thinks. He speaks out of turn. No amount of guidance has — of yet — managed to smoothen out his rough edges. He also happens to be brilliant at what he does.

Rumor has it that Susan has decided that the atmosphere in team two needs to change. She has identified that John is the problem. It has been said that Susan has convinced Helen that John should be moved over to Jack's team, for the 'greater good' of the entire department. This rumor cannot be substantiated!

Helen has announced that John will be transferring from team two to team one. John, Jack and Jill all hear the news at the same time.

John didn't ask to leave and is angry at not being consulted. Helen has told him that Jack's team need his drive and energy. She said that team one will be welcoming, kind, and accepting — more so than team two.

Jack doesn't want John on his team. He feel that John will upset the balance, and that he won't be able to manage him well. Helen feels that Jack needs to toughen up, and that his team could stand to be more competitive. Jack is unable to convince her that the team's balance is optimal, and John's aggression will negatively impact everyone. His team are already nervous and expressing that maybe they would be better off moving somewhere else.

Jill would prefer John to stay, but it is not in her best interest to protest too much. John is an over-achiever, and Jill feels that his contributions outweighs his negative points. Jill says that the issues with John have not reached a point where his team members are complaining. In fact, Jill argues, John adds to the spice and the energy of the team. Helen says that Jill's team need to calm down a bit and to learn how to operate without constant intrigue and tension.

Helen tells both managers that her decisions are final and do not need to be justified or explained, but that John's move is for the greater good. Jack's team will get an over-achiever and Jill's team will get a break from intrigue. John, himself, will benefit from a more welcoming and calm team.

So who's correct — assuming that the question is even relevant —? Perhaps Helen has the right to make unilateral decisions in the name of the greater good. But what about Jack, Jill and John's individual rights? How about the individual rights — and collective rights — of the two teams? If Jack's team are now feeling stressed to the point of leaving, was this really for the greater good? And — if Jill's team were not really complaining about John, despite his antics, is the greater good not to leave John where he is?

As for Susan. No one really knows the truth. They only suspect that she is involved. Assuming that she was in fact involved, is this not the exact opposite of the greater good? Hasn't Susan simply asserted her individual interest above that of the greater good? Hasn't she simply eliminated her greatest competition?

What do you think?

bottom of page