PrintThis holiday season I found myself afflicted by a condition known as “TV binge-watching.”  I received the 5-season DVD set of The Wire, and from the first episode of season one to the final episode of season five, I was hooked.   Having completed all five seasons, I am now going back through the discs to replay the episodes that have commentary from the producers, directors, writers and actors.  I am fascinated to get a tour behind the scenes from those that deliver this magnificent body of work.There is so much to apply from The Wire to organizations, teams, leadership, culture, and performance.  I was curious to know if any universities were using The Wire and found that, although for a slightly different focus than organization development, The Kennedy School at Harvard uses the series as a case study on the urban inequality in America’s inner cities.There is one point that I would like to address that was raised in commentary by the writer of Episode Two in Season Three, Richard Price.  If you have not watched the series, in short, The Wire explores the drug war in the city of Baltimore, MD.  Across the five seasons the drug trade is examined through the lens of the police, port system, politics and government, educational system, and press, respectively.Each season is fraught with ideological, structural and interpersonal conflicts that the organizations, teams, and individuals must find a way to work through or past in service of achieving their goals.  Examples at the organizational level alone include the police vs. the drug syndicates, city vs. state government, and schools vs. the school board.The point Price makes is that part of what makes the series, and life, so fascinating is that while there are competing camps, in reality, the world does not operate with people literally and physically separate.  In the real world, people with different views have to live together and co-exist.Narcotics police exist to bring down drug traffickers and by definition their jobs include interfacing daily with their enemy.   City and state governments have their independent constituencies to address with sometimes conflicting needs, yet there is an intersection between those constituencies as well as a co-dependency between the two governments required for them to each be successful.  They must routinely interact with each other.  Schools administrators and teachers exist to educate our youth while meeting the expectations set by school boards, and  yet the two are not always aligned.  But again, by definition, schools and school boards must interact routinely.

Price goes on to say that life  for people in these institutions becomes about how to negotiate one’s day to day existence living with and among people who operate with a different world view.

While the drug war in the city of Baltimore may be an extreme case, the same principles can arguably be applied to life in the corporate world.  In business there are silos.  R&D, Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, Quality, Finance, IT, HR…all see the world from a different vantage point.  Yet we must all find a way to co-exist. Life becomes about how to negotiate the challenges and complexities with people from other silos with whom we must interact to be successful.  In this context, leadership is about negotiating within rather than fighting against this reality.

Watch The Wire and let me know…what lessons about organizations, teams, leadership or culture resonate for you?