Tone at the top vs actual culture

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Tone at the top, as an important governance principle, has gained more prominence over the last number of years as one corporate scandal after the other rocked the world. It is clear that Boards must take ultimate responsibility for building and maintaining an ethical culture in the organisation over which they preside. It is therefore paramount that organisational leaders say and do the right things in line with the organisational values they want to see permeating throughout the organisation.

Saying the right things is of course easier than doing the right things. Furthermore, doing the right things are often only interpreted as the Board walking the talk, i.e. the values of the organisation being evident in how Board members conduct themselves. Herein lies a problem.

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Silent collusions, groupthink and unbridled power

The word ‘collusion’ has its roots in Latin. The Latin prefix col-, meaning “together,” and the verb ludere, “to play,” come together to form collude. The related noun collude has the specific meaning “secret agreement or cooperation.” (Mirriam Webster dictionary). The Collins dictionary defines collusion as “to act together through a secret understanding, esp. with evil or harmful intent”.

On the face of it, it seems clear that there would need to be a conversation of sorts to reach an agreement to cooperate. The question that is plaguing me however is whether the need for a verbal conversation or written agreement is necessary to enter a collusion. Could you have two or more players playing together without any meeting, secret or not, and without a verbal or written agreement to cooperate?

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