When a team member actually impedes the progress of a project, and direct intervention isn't effective, reassignment and termination are the best options. But sometimes, politics intervenes — you can't reassign or terminate because of a constraint from on high. Sometimes the offender is a relative of the boss, or might be politically connected, or might be spying for a powerful political operator. In some cases, the goal might even be vendetta-driven sabotage.
When you can't terminate or reassign the offender, what are your alternatives? Frustration? Madness? Running for Congress?
Often you can accomplish the mission within the constraints you have to deal with. Here are some insights and tactics that can help.
- The problem is bigger than you think
- It's unlikely that this situation is the first or last of its kind. A repetition is probable. Even if you find a way around it this time, you might face the same problem again. Possible nightmare scenario: the person who replaces this offender is even worse.
- Consider a course change for yourself
- Since the situation is likely to repeat, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" If you have alternatives, think about trying one of them. If you don't have alternatives, get some. Always have alternatives.
- Work the politics
- Evidently, you need stronger alliances than you now have if you want to remove the offender. Build those alliances. Even if it's too late for this incident, you'll likely need them eventually.
- If you can't remove, reconfigure
- If you can't You can often accomplish
the mission even when
you can't terminate
people who impede progressremove the offender from the team, reconfigure to insulate the offender from anything important. If you do, you'll need a plausible rationale, especially for the political operator(s) who prevented reassignment. Reconfigure in a way that seems plausible enough to divide the forces that blocked a more straightforward approach.
- Find an important-sounding new task
- As you devise the reconfiguration, it's tempting to remove the person from all work. But it's far more plausible to reassign the offender to something important-sounding that isolates him or her from the critical elements of the current effort. Off site is best.
- Identify an alternative resource
- If the offender was uniquely able to do work you absolutely need done, find a consultant, or a contractor, or consider doing it yourself. Make no moves or announcements until you have an alternative resource.
- Adopt a more selective meeting attendance policy
- Shortening and focusing meeting agendas gives you an opportunity to focus the invitation lists. By omitting the tasks of offenders from agendas, you can exclude offenders from meetings.
Most important, be comfortable with a level of performance lower than you normally expect from teams you lead. This problem isn't one of your choosing, and charging the entire performance penalty to your personal account is probably unjustified. It isn't you that isn't doing your best — it's the organization that isn't doing its best. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Project Management:
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- A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We often think of toxic
projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can hurt people or damage
the organization — sometimes irreparably.
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience
is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.