I solved the technical issues that prevented the Army Nerve Agent Detector from working despite having little knowledge of chemistry. The need to belong ensured that scientists adhered to group behaviour and technique. Incredibly they ignored the fact that chemistry text books were incorrect.

I set up an apparently absurd temporary organisation to relocate two very large factories whilst in full production.  Job titles included Director in Charge of not Losing Anything and Director of Ensuring all Staff are able to Work all the Time. The project was a spectacular success but caused much discomfort to traditional departmental management as social comforts were disrupted.

Exam paper markers are traditionally required to mark completed student papers. After enabling on-line marking, I required examiners to focus on single questions only. The result was a massive improvement in speed and cost, and most importantly, in accuracy. Exam regulators and academics constrained by the need to belong to established structures studiously ignored the benefits.

In a factory manufacturing complex products I designed a new product to be assembled and tested by single operators and in the process ignored batch production, finishing, interchangeability and other traditional techniques. Costs were reduced by 70% and delivery time by 400%. Design departments waited anxiously for my departure so they could revert to comfortable organisational norms.

Good leadership is not founded on the skills and characteristics of the leader; leadership depends upon people needing to be led.  Good leaders know how to articulate a credible, shared threat or purpose and how to keep the need to belong high in the staff psyche. I have used that approach often to transform company cultures.

As Business Improvement and Customer Service Director I went to Nice in France to accept the prestigious National Customer Service of the Year Award on behalf of my then company; the outcome of an interesting approach to engaging several hundred staff in a common purpose that crossed organisation boundaries. The need to belong can be created in large diverse groups, and the best companies do just that.

When Type 42 destroyers were being built two ships hulls suffered from an aggressive, widespread corrosion a few months after leaving dry dock. Scientists checked everything and declared that the hull and its paint systems were perfect. Again, the need to belong operated at professional level and some simple issues were ignored. I led the search for a cause, and a hitherto unique organism was found that had the remarkable ability to strip oxygen from one of the paint layers, creating corrosion.

The much observed glass ceiling that shuts out the appointment of many women to senior appointments is, I believe, created because the social comfort of groups of men and groups of women differ in some fundamental ways. Women can learn how men behave in social groups and use that to their advantage. I have been fortunate to have worked with and for women who used their awareness to rise through the ranks.

Companies have ‘ranks’ or ‘levels’ of management and promotions up the ladder depend upon individuals being ‘recognised as one of us’.  I have been appointed several times as director of divisions in which I have had little training or knowledge because I was seen to be ‘one of us’. Recognition can come through a few simple behaviours at work.

People naturally seek comfort by joining social groups; often unconsciously. Organisations are formed into groups to further ‘efficiency’ and ‘order’.  We try to pigeon-hole people and tasks. This behaviour is apparent everywhere in business, and it gets in the way of effective purpose. I have seen countless examples of how small changes can transform performance. Here are a few of my own changes…

I should stress that anyone with an awareness of how the need to belong constrains organisational behaviour could have made similar changes.