Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 15;   April 13, 2005:

Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"

by

If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes a top priority problem. What can you do?
The Cone Nebula

The Cone Nebula as imaged by the ACS camera of the Hubble Space Telescope. Courtesy Space Telescope Science Institute.

There's no excuse for going-dark behavior, of course, but in our frustration, trying to turn the lights back on, we often select tactics that are ineffective and can even be counterproductive. Avoid these:

The Tweaking CC
Something that rarely works: sending a query in email demanding information, accusing the recipient of failing to report, and including a CC to the recipient's boss, to the CEO and to the Master of the Universe. See "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001.
Public embarrassment
Pillorying the offender in a general email to the team, or at a meeting — especially in his or her absence — is likely to arouse anger and resistance.
Spreading poison
Describing the problem to anyone who will listen will likely be seen as character assassination.
Abuse
Harassment and intimidation, in person or in other media, are always unethical and unacceptable. And they just plain don't work. See "When You're the Target of a Bully," Point Lookout for March 17, 2004.
Suspending privileges or reassignment as punishment
Indirect, threatening, or abusive
tactics are unlikely
to address the problem
The deterrence theory of punishment is questionable in any case, but in the team environment it's downright toxic.
The nuclear option
Waiting until the annual review period to then clobber the victim with a truly horrible report doesn't resolve the immediate problem.

Try the following steps instead. They're arranged in roughly increasing order of escalation.

Email, voicemail, interdepartmental mail, fax, stopping by, and notes on the chair
You probably already tried all of these. They haven't worked.
Email with a return-receipt and high priority
This probably won't work either, but you have to try.
Call at odd hours
Calling in the early morning, during lunch, late evenings, or weekends might work, if the subject is avoiding answering calls during business hours.
Mask your caller ID
If the subject is screening your calls using caller ID, mask your ID or call from an unusual number, such as a conference room, a friend's mobile, or a colleague's phone. Next level: call from the credit union, HR, or Security.
Make a personal visit
If you're remote, this isn't an easy option, but it might work.
Ask for help
Consult your boss for ideas, influence, and moral support. This is a last resort, but it usually works when all else has failed.

When you finally make contact, remember to remain calm. If the incident is a first-time offense, explain your concerns seriously and respectfully and demand respect in return. If the incident is part of a pattern, you've got a larger problem, and you need more information to figure out what that problem might be.

For instance, the "offender" might not be an offender at all — he or she might have been directed to go dark by someone up the management chain (I've seen this happen). Tread carefully.

In any case, work to repair and preserve the relationship first, and to resolve the problem second. Progress, when it comes, will require a sound and stable relationship. Go to top Top  Next issue: Knowing Where You're Going  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torchBeyond Our Control
When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed. We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
A view from the false summit of the Manitou incline in ColoradoFalse Summits: I
Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
The U.S. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter lifts off for its first training sortie March 6, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, FloridaWishful Thinking and Perception: II
Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.
The Perito Moreno Glacier in ArgentinaUnresponsive Suppliers: II
When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive suppliers?
A model of a space station proposed in 1952 by Wernher von BraunHigher-Velocity Problem Definition
Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products often involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help, but a curious paradox stands in the way.

See also Project Management, Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.