Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 7;   February 15, 2006:

Nepotism, Patronage, Vendettas, and Workplace Espionage

by

Normally, you terminate or reassign team members who actually inhibit progress. Here are some helpful insights and tactics to use when termination or reassignment is impossible.

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.

The U.S. Capitol at nightWhen 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 progress
remove 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: How Not to Accumulate Junk  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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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