Most people have tried being betrayed by another person. How we deal with it in a personal setting can vary a lot depending on the circumstances and our personal attitudes. When it happens in a company when someone betrays the company in one or the other way, we need to respond and react differently.

That is because there is a hidden opportunity in this betrayal, that can become beneficial as an example of what the company’s culture is.

One of the basic functions of any culture, including a company culture is to create protection for the members of the group. That implies that it must also define what the consequences are if a member of the group betrays the group. Michel Foucault describes exactly that in his masterpiece “Discipline and Punish“, namely that how you punish the individual has a huge influence on the future group behaviour.

In a corporate environment, it is no different. So when an employee betrays you, think carefully about how you get get the most out of the situation. For some, the primary goal of the situation is to establish fear in the group. Fear of what will happen if any of the members would consider doing something similar. For others, it is more important to play on the shame – how shameful it is that a member was tempted to betray his or her colleagues for the benefit of her- or himself.

Gugin often receives requests for online consulting on how to tackle such a situation. The reason why it is difficult to handle I because there are many emotions and feelings involved at the same time. And for the sake of the group, it is very important that it is dealt with properly. However, despite all the negative things about the situation, it is also a unique opportunity to show what values the organisation really has. Remember, values have to be lived out in order to have any authority. Values listed in a PowerPoint presentation or on a website are just empty words.

Cultural dilemmas make it difficult

There are also many cultural dilemmas involved in such a situation. If you have a culture based on trust, then can you still trust people or will you start to implement more control?

Remember you can trust and control people at the same time. When you start controlling people you say at the same time: “I don’t trust you, therefore I have to control you”. If you already have a control-based culture then that particular dilemma is no big deal. In each organisation, there are different cultural dilemmas to deal with in such a situation, and time is crucial, which is usually the reason why our clients request instant online consulting.

A typical case

A typical case is a situation where an employee has sold confidential information to a competitor and then gets caught either by a whistleblower or because the person leaves traces behind that reveal the crime. We have been surprised by how many cases like this we have been asked to resolve and we have been equally surprised by how seldom the companies want to report it to the police.

The first question we get is: “This has happened, what shall we do?”. and our response is usually: “What do you want to achieve?“

From there it can develop in thousands of different directions, but the most radical and brilliant solution took place in a small online marketing firm, where an employee had collected and sold information about one of their client’s online performance and marketing strategy.

The CEO decided that the person who had betrayed them should be confronted by the entire group, which at that time consisted of approximately 20 people. The intervention took place outside in a nearby park. The woman who had betrayed the company was full of shame and she participated in the intervention completely voluntarily.

She sat in the middle of the circle with all the employees around her. We were the facilitator of the intervention, and we started with that each employee who had a question to ask the woman in the centre. We had of course established some ground rules to ensure that everything went smoothly. There came many questions, mostly about why, how she felt, and why she felt it was necessary to do such a thing if they had been bad colleagues and bosses.

The last question came from the CEO, who asked her what she wanted to do now. She said she wanted to return the money to the company as compensation and that she hoped it would not be reported to the police. The CEO said to her that she could distribute the money among her colleagues as it was them she had betrayed. And that was exactly the opportunity I mentioned at the beginning of this article. An opportunity to show the real values of that particular company.

Then the final question was what should happen to her. The CEO asked her what she believed should be a proper consequence of her action. (we had told the CEO in advance not to use the word punishment or something similar). She said she wanted to resign immediately. Then something interesting happened. Several of her colleagues in the circle asked her to stay with many different arguments. The woman was obviously touched by the gesture but insisted on leaving the company.

Questions for you:

  1. How would you tackle a similar situation in your organisation?
  2. Do you have the courage to stay loyal to your company values, even when the situation is difficult?


Let us know if we can help you in any way.




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Gugin has helped more than 600 companies around the world creating a winning corporate culture.

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