Holding back — choosing to restrain one's own efforts toward group goals — is one of the many causes of disappointing team performance. It occurs when one or more team members exert less effort toward achieving a team objective than they would have exerted in analogous situations, if working as individuals. In team-oriented workplaces, where holding back can create significant budget and schedule issues, understanding the causes of voluntary restraint of effort and learning how to control it can be steps on the path to superior organizational and personal performance.
The literature of group performance includes studies of many forms of holding back. Their definitions vary, and some authors distinguish among them on the basis of differences in motivation-related causes. Here's Part I of a catalog of forms of holding back. These first three are among the more thoroughly researched.
- Social loafing
- Social loafing happens when a group member exerts less effort toward a shared objective than he or she would have exerted working alone. In some virtual environments, it assumes a form known as tele-shirking.
- Although the conventional definition makes no distinctions with respect to motive, the first investigations of social loafing related to efforts in which all contributions to achieving the shared objective were similar in kind. That is, one could not easily determine by observation which team members were engaged in social loafing. In some cases of social loafing, one cannot even determine whether it has occurred, other than by examining the aggregate effort. These conditions distinguish social loafing from free riding and the sucker effect, described below.
- Free riding
- Free riding is holding back because of the belief that others will compensate for the effort withheld.
- Some have defined free riding to require that the free rider receive some kind of benefit while exerting zero effort. But the essential element of this form of holding back is the perception on the part of the free rider that the efforts of others will compensate for the free rider's choice to withhold effort.
- The sucker effect
- Another form Choosing to restrain one's own
efforts toward group goals is
one of the many causes of
disappointing team performanceof holding back, known as the sucker effect, occurs when group members perceive — accurately or not — that other members are holding back, for whatever reason. To avoid being seen (and possibly seeing themselves) as "suckers," they reduce their own effort to a point at which they feel sufficiently less likely to seem to have been exploited. The sucker effect might also have anticipatory forms in which a team member curtails efforts because of a belief that another team member is likely to withhold, even when there is no objective evidence of any current withholding.
- Here the identification of those who hold back is essential — it is the central reason for withholding effort.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Not Really Part of the Team: II
- 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?
- The Artful Shirker
- Most people who shirk work are fairly obvious about it, but some are so artful that the people around
them don't realize what's happening. Here are a few of the more sophisticated shirking techniques.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- 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.
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- 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.
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.