Sunday, December 22, 2013

Are Downton Abbey and associations both last century dramas?


What does Downton Abbey suggest for Association Professionals


I’m late to the party in terms of watching and enjoying PBS’s show Downton Abbey. We’ve been watching Seasons 1, 2 and 3 on BluRay to get ready for Season 4 which starts on PBS this January.

If you’ve not watched it, it is well worth your time!

Here’s the key scenario of the plot which is set in England in the early 1900s: http://taylorholmes.com/2012/08/14/downton-abbey-explained-infographics/
  • Overall plot: protecting Downton Abbey for future generations
  • Upstairs House: the lords and ladies ... similar association volunteers and board members
  • Downstairs House: the servants ... similar to association staff
As I’m catching up with previous seasons, I realize associations and Downton Abbey have some similarities.
  • Lord Grantham head of the house and family ... he’s similar to the volunteer board chair. His family act much like boards and members. (My opinion.)
  • The staff (servants) serve the lords and ladies (e.g., the association leaders, volunteers, members).
  • The staff (servants) are loyal to the institution, not necessarily to the family (volunteers).
  • Mr. Carson (the butler) is the head of staff ... Downton’s version of a CEO. 
  • Carson has organized the staff into silos based on the work to be done. 
  • If you are assigned to one silo, you cannot work in/for another silo. Examples: kitchen staff; wait staff (footman), maids, etc.
Like many associations, friction surfaces between the staff silos.

Carson, the CEO, refuses to allow staff to switch from one silo to another. Hard-headed and old school, he’d rather do it himself than to allow someone from the wrong staff to do the duty.

The association leaders (lords & ladies) have quirks and foibles; and are allowed to have favorite staff (servants). This allows the staff to share their views and frustrations with the lord or lady to whom they serve. (Much as some staff are able to influence their committee chairs or other volunteers.)

The plot talks about how the War (World War I) is changing everything. Perhaps it will result in a different structure for the staff?

In any event, Downton Abbey’s organizational structure shows the pitfalls of strong divisions between volunteers and staff as well as the impact of staff silos on an organization.

How is your staff organized? How do volunteers treat your staff? How does your staff interact with your volunteers/boards? With other staff? 

Downton Abbey shows us how not to do it!

Unfortunately, I still see a lot of association staff organized much like that of Downton Abbey. And, many association boards that treat their professional staff as do the Lords and Ladies of Downton Abbey?

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