Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 38;   September 23, 2015:

How to Deal with Holding Back

by

Last updated: January 17, 2021

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

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