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.
Watch what people do in your teams. Do they step forward eagerly? Do they shift burdens unfairly? The tactics you see others use can help you choose your own. Top Next Issue
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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