The mythology about best practices is that they universally improve every organization. The truth is more likely that organizations are so idiosyncratic that any practice born elsewhere probably needs tailoring before it can be imported. My old shoes are very comfortable for me, but they probably aren't for you.
Worst practices are different — they're almost universally disastrous. We know this because, sadly, nearly everyone tries them. Here's a short list of some worst practices.
- Provide only outdated equipment. Even better: make people share outdated equipment.
- For security, lock all portable computers to desks
- Never, ever train anybody
- Use training as a reward. Provide it only to those who need it least.
- To increase productivity, increase pressure
- Let acrimony persist until it's truly injurious
- Leave in place people who are clearly incapable of doing much of anything
- Assign blame
- Spend time defending yourself in case someone, someday decides to assign blame
- Take credit for work done by subordinates or colleagues
- Give credit to one person for what was a team effort, ignoring everyone else's contributions
- Kill the messenger: punish people who deliver bad news
- Kill the non-messenger: after you get bad news, punish those who knew about it but didn't tell you because you have a reputation for killing the messenger
- Force consensus by shaming or punishing those few souls foolish enough to disagree with the "correct" position
- Force consensus without allowing time for sufficient discussion
- Make decisions autocratically even when there's time for consensus
- Have favorite subordinates who can do no wrong
- The worst thing about
worst practices isn't their
consequences; it's that we
keep using them despite
their consequencesHave troubled subordinates who can do no right, even when they do right
- As team owner, publicly castigate team members
- Publicly overrule a subordinate manager, citing information obtained from one of his or her subordinates
- "Sit in" on a subordinate's meeting unannounced
- Make the problem excessively complicated by raising herds of ancillary minor issues
- Angrily say things that hurt people, damaging the group's ability to collaborate
- Add new people to the team. Even better: do it in a way that raises questions about the abilities of incumbents
- "Temporarily" transfer some team member(s) to another effort
- Conduct "emergency" project reviews regularly
- Increase the budget without warning
- Decrease the budget
- Circulate rumors that maybe we'll be cutting the budget
- Tighten project scope to maintain schedule
- Use (faked) schedule urgency as a way of managing spending
- Remove or relax some requirements
- After work is well underway, add new requirements or tighten existing requirements
- Reassign some work from one team member to another
- Assign the same work to two people (or teams) without their knowing it
- Assign to one person work already completed by another
- Assign work to two people, together, without designating either one as lead
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- A Critique of Criticism: I
- Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience
pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to
increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Coercion by Presupposition
- Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it
frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal
responsibility for ending it.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: IV
- Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some
are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?
- Problem Displacement and Technical Debt
- The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another.
It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?
See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.