Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 38;   September 23, 2015: How to Deal with Holding Back

How to Deal with Holding Back

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

When group members voluntarily restrict their contributions to group efforts, group success is threatened and high performance becomes impossible. How can we reduce the incidence of holding back?
Orient quad, photo by George H. Van Norman

Orient quad, photo by George H. Van Norman of Springfield, Massachusetts, ca. 1898. A tandem bicycle doesn't provide much uniqueness for the contributions of the team members, except for the lead cyclist. Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

As we've seen (see "Holding Back: I," Point Lookout for September 9, 2015), some team members voluntarily restrict their efforts for a variety of reasons. We can't always eliminate their holding back, but we can nevertheless act to reduce its effects.

Many strategies for reducing voluntary effort restraint entail arranging for members' contributions to be unique. When contributions are unique, holding back might be less tempting if people recognize that failure to contribute might be traceable. Perhaps more important, people feel more valued because of the uniqueness of their contributions. Clearly, this works only if they know that their contributions are unique, and only if they perceive that the group does indeed value those contributions.

But there are issues.

Truly value team contributions
Although making contributions traceable — and then tracking them — can be an important step in reducing the incidence of holding back, tracing the authorship of contributions can reduce the incidence of holding back only if the organization attaches value to those contributions. A more fundamental improvement might entail reviewing how the organization values every kind of team contribution.
Have small and clearly defined teams and groups
The larger the group of contributors, the more likely is holding back. Be clear about team composition and personal responsibilities. Any ambiguity can lead to holding back.
Recognize contributions as contributions
One kind of Many groups don't recognize
questions as actual contributions
very valuable contribution is the brilliant question. In meetings, a brilliant question is one that brings a halt to the proceedings because it causes the group to recognize that it has missed something important. Yet, many groups don't recognize questions (of any kind, brilliant or not) as actual contributions. They regard answers to questions as more valuable than the questions themselves, even though discovering the question can be more difficult than finding its answer. Recognize all contributions for the value they do provide.
Create passion and involvement
Stimulating passion and involvement can even more effectively limit holding back, because it introduces positive motivation to contribute, which can overwhelm any temptation to hold back. Challenging — but still achievable — group goals can help. A challenging goal is one that's far enough out of reach that achieving it is somewhat questionable, but not so far out of reach that inevitable failure is obvious.
Create unique, positive group identities
When group members can base their own self-esteem, in part, on the group identity, they're more likely to contribute passionately to group success. But because those outside the group determine, to some extent, the quality of a group's identity, image management strategies might be necessary.

Most important, intervene quickly when holding back occurs. If someone begins holding back, others who see it might also begin to hold back, too, because of the sucker effect, fatigue, performance matching, or other reasons. Early and effective intervention can limit holding-back contagion, and the damage holding back can do. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Artful Shirker  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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
A cup of coffeeMy Boss Gabs Too Much
Your boss has popped into your office for another morning gab session. Normally, it's irritating, but today you have a tight deadline, so you're royally ticked. What can you do?
A Hug-Free Zone posterUnwanted Hugs from Strangers
Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while, this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityLook 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?
Prototypes of President Trump's "border wall."Gratuitous Complexity as a Type III Error
Some of the technological assets we build — whether hardware, software, or procedures — are gratuitously complex. That's an error, but an error of a special kind: it can be the correct solution to the wrong problem.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)Coming August 5: Red Flags: III
Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics. Available here and by RSS on August 5.
A so-called "Paris Gun" of World War IAnd on August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.