Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 37;   September 16, 2015: Holding Back: II

Holding Back: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams. Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort they could contribute.
American Eclipse, an American racehorse who lived from 1814 to 1847

American Eclipse, an American racehorse who lived from 1814 to 1847. At the time, three- and four-mile heats were common, which makes his undefeated record especially impressive.

Horse-racing strategy — indeed, strategy in most kinds of racing — includes a tactic often called "holding back," in which the racer exerts less effort than would otherwise be possible in order to have some effort in reserve. Even though the workplace isn't a race in the ordinary sense, holding back some effort for reserve purposes can be a constructive choice at times. The image is that of a painting (ca. 1834) by Edward Troye, courtesy Wikipedia.

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.
Fatigue
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 back
others 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.

Honest, I haven't been holding back about suggesting how to control holding back. That's next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Deal with Holding Back  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

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.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A knife edgeKnife-Edge Performers
Some employees deliver performance episodically, while some deliver steady, but barely adequate performance. Either way, they keep their managers drained and anxious, on the "knife edge" of terminating them. How can you detect knife-edge performers, and what can you do about them?
The 171st graduating class of the Massachusetts Firefighting AcademyHow to Get a Promotion: the Inside Stuff
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us are, but are you doing all you can to make it happen? Start with a focus on you.
Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchConflicts of Interest in Reporting
Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts. Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading and unreliable reports.
Small cage with canary used in testing for carbon monoxide after the Hollinger Mine fire on February 10, 1928On Being the Canary
Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
Dry Falls, in Grand County, Washington StateImpasses in Group Decision-Making: IV
Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?

See also Workplace Politics and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A model of a space station proposed in 1952 by Wernher von BraunComing January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
Three gulls excluding a fourthAnd on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.