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 contributionsvery 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Stalking the Elephant in the Room: I
- The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking,
and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging
elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
- Before You Blow the Whistle: II
- When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions,
they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes
decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used
to suppress the truth.
- Pariah Professions: I
- In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some
people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
- Social Entry Strategies: II
- When we first engage with a group at work, we employ social entry strategies to make places for ourselves
to carry out our responsibilities, and to find enjoyment and fulfillment at work. Here's Part II of
a little catalog of social entry strategies.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.