Whether you're a team member, a team lead, or a manager, you need to know how people elude assignments. If you're part of a team that's consistently and seriously overworked, avoiding additional action items is just about your only defense against overload. If others are better at it than you are, you'll end up with more than your share of the load. As a team lead or manager, noticing these patterns can be your first clue that people are overloaded.
To begin, here are some tactics people use to shift burdens to others, unfairly.
- Never finish action items you already have. That way, you can say, "I have too much on my plate right now."
- Don't offer new ideas. Offering new ideas is a great way to get asked to execute them. See "The 'What-a-Great-Idea!' Trap," Point Lookout for February 28, 2001, for more.
- Belong to more than one team. That way, you can always decline action items by saying that your load from the other team is too high.
- If several heavy action items might be headed your way, taking the earlier light ones gives you a pass to decline the heavy ones later. People see the numbers more clearly than the weight.
- Get involved in future planning. Then, if someone presses you to start contributing to current efforts, you can say that you expect to be involved in that future effort, and you don't want to over-commit.
- Offer to assist with, not lead, a critical task that's in serious trouble. The level of effort required can be quite small. If any action items come your way, you can say, "I'm already helping out with the finger-in-the-dike project."
- Have responsibility for something really important or very unappealing. That way, people will avoid giving you anything that might distract you from your task.
- Volunteer for Consistent action item evasion by
some team members can lead to
resentment, polarization, formation
of cliques, and other symptoms
of toxic conflicttasks that are especially easy for you, either because you've already completed them, or because you have pieces of them already done. People will give you credit for the full effort, but the cost to you is less than they imagine.
And here are some tactics for avoiding action items fairly.
- Attend meetings. You usually get more action items when you aren't there.
- Don't be the first to raise a new topic that could result in action items for others. This only invites retribution.
- If doughnuts, coffee, or anything with sugar or caffeine is being served, abstain. Leave the sugar and caffeine for others. Let them get hyped up.
- If you're the lead or chair, and nobody steps forward for something, rather than taking the action yourself, take the action to find someone to do it.
- If you're the lead or chair, don't wait for meetings before asking someone to accept a task. Approaching people in advance lets you do horse-trading in private.
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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.