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.
- Some team members Some team members bully
others, who then withdraw
to find safetyare 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When Power Attends the Meeting
- When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost
inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting
in on the meetings of your subordinates.
- Practice Positive Politics
- Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting
decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be
constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
- Why Others Do What They Do
- If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly
why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
- The Perils of Limited Agreement
- When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement
is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?
- Columbo Strategy
- A late 20th-century television detective named Columbo had a unique approach to cracking murder cases.
His method is just as effective at work when the less powerful must deal with the powerful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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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.