Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 41;   October 9, 2013: Not Really Part of the Team: II

Not Really Part of the Team: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
A10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"

LTC Doug Champagne, commanding officer of the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, discusses the firepower that the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft can bring to the close air support mission. The 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun is one of the A-10's most noticeable features. Close air support tactics are among the many factors that have reduced the significance of the concept of "lines" in ground warfare. Two hundred years ago, combat units faced each other across contended ground, delineated by lines of opposing forces. Even after the introduction of aircraft made behind-the-line attacks technically possible, this geometry prevailed, in part, because comparably effective coordination between ground and air forces had not yet been developed. The A10 platform is an example of an aircraft that is capable of exploiting more sophisticated air/ground coordination capabilities.

In managing large organizations, reliance on direct communication between the people of a group and their immediate supervisor limits the ability of higher-level managers to intervene in the operations of those individual groups. Layers of management tend to retard the organization's ability to innovate — or even to adjust processes — in response to changes in the business environment. In such organizations, when difficulties occur at a given level of the business, they must be addressed by management at that level, who must often secure approvals and cooperation from their own supervisors. These layers of control are analogous to the battle lines that prevailed in combat before the development of sophisticated air/ground coordination doctrines.

In modern organizations, information can be coordinated through many layers of management. Intervention by high-level managers is then possible deep within the organization, because they have the ability to synthesize information from anywhere in the organization, and then coordinate actions on that basis. Although this capability exists, in many instances it is not yet fully mature, which results in some well-intended but not very effective interventions. This is one factor that explains the prevalence of the Airdropped Team Lead. Photo taken in May, 2009, by Technical Sgt. David Kujawa, courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Withholding our energy, what we know, or even what we guess might be true, can hurt our teams when they face difficult situations. Unless team members feel safe enough to take reasonable risks, they limit their contributions to such an extent that team performance can suffer. Here's Part II of our little catalog of factors that can cause team members to hang back. Read Part I for more.

Bully targets
Some team members bully others, who then withdraw to find safety. They don't speak at meetings unless required to. They volunteer neither effort, nor opinion, nor information. They might be motivated, in part, by bitterness or anger, but the initial motivation is fear, which usually remains central. If bullying occurs in meetings, the team lead bears some responsibility, but if the bullying occurs elsewhere, the team might be unaware of it.
Indirect bully targets
Some people, aware of bullying by one or more team members, aren't targets themselves. Intimidated into near-silence, they seek safety by hanging back, depriving the team of their contributions. Their withholding seems mysterious, because there are no direct interactions that could explain it.
Clique excludees
Some teams harbor cliques whose relationships are much stronger than their relationships with other team members. Even when the clique intends no malice, others can feel excluded. Over time, perceived exclusionary incidents can cause excludees to "check out." They cease trying to gain acceptance, because previous efforts have produced such small returns. Clique members then might feel judged, and might begin to actively exclude the excludees. Enmity can develop from nothing.
Airdropped team leads
The airdropped team lead (ADTL) arrived when the previous team lead left unexpectedly. Unhappy about the assignment, the ADTL sometimes knows (or cares) little about the task or the team's status, which can prevent the ADTL from anticipating difficulties, or resolving existing difficulties. Viewing their assignments as dues to be paid, ADTLs accept them believing that "stepping up" will help their careers. ADTLs sometimes set unachievable goals for their teams, either out of repressed anger, out of ignorance, or to prove their own worth.
Replacements
Some team members Some team members bully
others, who then withdraw
to find safety
are replacements for those reassigned following a "staff raid" by another team. Replacements are sometimes less capable than the people they replace. When they and the rest of the team know or believe that, replacements can feel unwanted and "less than." Unless replacements feel respected, they can withdraw into themselves, thinking that by just doing their jobs they can get through this assignment and someday find one that comes with some respect.

With so many alternative explanations to consider, it's remarkable how often — and how quickly — people decide that the person who hangs back is the only one making the bad choice. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Overtalking: I  Next Issue

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In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

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