In Part I of our catalog of mechanisms that cause some team members to hold back their own efforts, we looked at three of the better-studied phenomena: social loafing, free riding, and the sucker effect. We continue now with some less-well-studied — but nonetheless common — mechanisms that lead to holding back. We'll take a look at what to do about holding back next time.
- Performance matching
- Performance matching is holding back so as to match the perceived level of others' contributions. It differs from free riding because free riders try to minimize their effort — to zero if possible. It differs from the sucker effect because performance matchers aren't trying to avoid the appearance of being exploited.
- Some performance matchers try to avoid the risks associated with contributing. For example, they might anticipate shunning by peers concerned about being outshone by high performers. Or, if under pressure to perform on other projects, performance matchers might be trying to deliver at low but acceptable levels.
- Futility effects
- Holding back can occur when a team member regards the group's efforts as futile because of wrongheaded design, looming external competition, mismanagement, corrupt leadership, or other factors. Those holding back might feel that they're doing no harm because the effort is doomed anyway.
- Some leaders or managers regard careful monitoring of individual effort as a deterrent to holding back. But if those holding back feel that no matter the value of their contributions, they will be deemed inadequate or be disregarded, then the deterrent effect of performance monitoring is limited. To achieve a measure of deterrence, group leaders and management must maintain a fair process of evaluation, and that process must be seen as fair.
- Sometimes people just get tired. They reduce their efforts — or they reduce time on the job — because they run out of energy. They might not admit exhaustion, because some cultures frown upon such admissions. And even when they do admit exhaustion, the admissions aren't always believed. Fatigue can also be a medical symptom, or a side effect of treatment.
- Determining the degree of exhaustion of In virtual teams, distance and time
differences can limit supervisors'
effectiveness, which can create
temptations for some team
members to hold backothers is notoriously difficult. It's likely that some people who are actually tired are thought to be holding back.
- Virtuality effects
- In virtual teams, distance and time differences can limit supervisors' effectiveness, which can create temptations for some team members to hold back, because they feel safe from detection. The temptation can be enhanced when those holding back are separated from peers in addition to supervisors.
- But virtual configurations can also contribute to misjudgments as supervisors and others assess levels of effort. That is, an observer might believe that someone is holding back, when in reality he or she is delivering acceptable or even superior levels of performance.
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Update: April 8, 2018
When someone — call him Nick — in a workgroup or team exhibits narcissistic behavior that entails ruthless disregard for the feelings of others, he tends to target those he perceives as threats to his own status. Some might hold back their contributions as a defensive measure to avoid appearing to threaten Nick. See "Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII," Point Lookout for May 2, 2018, for more.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Responding to Threats: I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure
mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- A Critique of Criticism: II
- To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to,
and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of
- Just Make It Happen
- Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen."
We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated
by ambition or ignorance — or both.
- Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can
also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve
our ability to prepare for adverse events?
- Conway's Law and Technical Debt
- Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication
patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt.
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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.
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