Some people are on the team, but aren't really part of it. They seem to hang back. They do their jobs, but there's no sparkle and little pride. Their social connections are limited to a few people, if any. Most interactions are directly related to their responsibilities. They show little initiative, even though they're capable of more than they're actually doing.
Because this pattern can keep the team from reaching its potential, it pays to ask, "What's going on?"
To solve puzzles like this, many look only (or almost only) at the person who's hanging back. And in some cases, the explanation does lie there, within. But in my experience, that's rarely the full story. It might not be even a small part of the story. More often, hanging back results from the dynamics of the team, in which the person who's hanging back might play only a small role. And some of the contributing causes might even lie outside the team.
Here's Part I of a short catalog of factors that can cause some people to hang back.
- Virtual isolation
- When some members of virtual teams are geographically isolated from all other members, they can find it difficult to form relationships with people they've never met, or never will meet. If they believe that they'll have little interaction with teammates in the future, they might invest little in building relationships now, especially if they've encountered even slight difficulties in past attempts. They just do their jobs and prepare to move on. Thus arises one of the hidden costs of virtual teams: depressed initiative for isolated team members.
- Pariah roles
- Some roles When some members of virtual teams
are geographically isolated from all
other members, they can find it
difficult to form relationships
with people they've never metare considered "less than." These people are on the team, but their opinions aren't valued. They do a particular piece of work, and that's all they are expected or permitted to contribute. Not only are their opinions and observations undervalued, they aren't even sought. Their unsolicited contributions often land with a "plop," and are promptly ignored, until, in some cases, those same contributions are offered by someone less of a pariah.
- Drive-by team members
- These people are assigned to the team part-time and temporarily, along with several other assignments that they have in parallel. Their expertise is rare within the organization, and the team regards itself as lucky to have a slice of the drive-by team member's time, on any conditions. They schedule team meetings at the convenience of their drive-bys, and they permit the drive-bys to attend just part of the meeting. When the drive-by shows up for a meeting, the team immediately drops what they're doing to address the drive-by's agenda item. Drive-bys regard the team as inferior, and themselves as superior. They offer little to the team beyond the rare expertise that the team needs so desperately.
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 Workplace Politics:
- Nasty Questions: I
- Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather,
they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's
political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Deceptive Communications at Work
- Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also
understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication.
One form of abusive communication is deception.
- Human Limitations and Meeting Agendas
- Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control
and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings
more productive and save us from ourselves.
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.