The Immune Response to Infections in the Corporate Body

When your body detects an infection, it will kick off an immune response that fights the infection with white blood cells (macrophages). If this doesn’t solve the problem, your body upgrades the response to white blood cells called T and B lymphocytes. Interestingly, there are two jobs undertaken by these two kinds of white blood cell. Some act as monitors and alert on invading viruses, while other act to destroy them. These cells hang around long after the virus has been destroyed, and have a long memory that means they will react much faster if they spot similar behaviour in the future.

All organisations have an immune response. In most cases, it is a healthy response and protects the principles of the organisation. But the problem occurs when healthy cells accidentally trigger the immune response. For example, many companies successfully operate a casual dress policy for many years. Casual dress is the norm and doesn’t trigger any immune response. Then one day, someone wears a t-shirt with an offensive slogan and the immune response kicks in. With luck, the macrophages will handle the offensive t-shirt – but if things aren’t handled well, the second stage immune response will result in rules being updated and monitored – and an unhealthy long-term memory that means that trainers (which were acceptable before the immune response) are now detected and attacked as if they were an offensive t-shirt.

Or to put it another way…

When your organisation detects a behaviour it thinks is harmful, it will kick off an immune response that fights the behaviour by imposing restrictions on it. If this doesn’t solve the problem, your organisation upgrades the response using two techniques known as management and contacts. The organisation will destroy the behaviour by updating the company handbook, and will monitor and alert on violations of the new rules. The rules hang around long after the behaviour has been destroyed, and the management will react much faster if they spot similar behaviour in the future.

So there is an implicit rule in all policies that says:

Don’t do anything that will trigger the immune response.

So avoid triggering the “casual -> business casual” immune response by choosing outfits well. Avoid triggering the “flexible hours -> fixed hours” immune response by ensuring that your team has sufficient cover during normal business hours. Avoid triggering the “home and office -> office” immune response by ensuring that you don’t all abandon the office on the same day. Avoid triggering the “automomous team -> command and control” immune response by showing discipline and professionalism in your work.