Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 22;   June 1, 2016: Workplace Anti-Patterns

Workplace Anti-Patterns

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-pattern

An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-pattern. Each time a crew attaches a new string to the pole, it does just enough to complete its own task, probably because it hasn't been given the time or resources to straighten out the mess. Most organizational process diagrams are probably as well-festooned as this pole.

Anti-patterns are common counter-effective behavioral responses to classes of problems or situations. Some anti-patterns are specific to individuals, some to groups, and some appear for both individuals and groups. Generally, anti-patterns differ from behavioral dysfunctions, which are also counter-effective, but which are usually associated with intellectual disabilities or psychological disorders.

The Peter Principle is an example of a group anti-pattern. It is the tendency for people in organizations to be promoted to the level of their incompetence. That is, organizations tend to advance the careers of individuals until they reach a level at which their performance is substandard, which leads to populating staff ranks with people who can't do their jobs. Another anti-pattern is the Identified Patient, who is the person identified by the group — usually incorrectly — as being the cause of its problems.

For any anti-pattern, five attributes are of interest.

Indicators
An anti-pattern's indicators signal its presence. For the Peter Principle, one indicator might be incompetence in managerial ranks.
Causes
Any anti-pattern can have multiple causes. For the Peter Principle, one cause is that organizations tend to promote individuals based on their demonstrated performance in their current role, rather than an assessment of their fitness for the intended role. If at some level of advancement, their performance becomes substandard, advancement usually halts.
Stabilizers
What mechanisms create anti-patterns can differ from what sustains them. Sustaining factors Helping the organization root out
a specific anti-pattern is an
admirable goal, if your organizational
responsibilities include such activity
include mechanisms that help it to survive or repeat despite its obvious counter-effectiveness. For the Peter Principle, in family businesses, for example, resistance to discharging incompetent employees can arise from a desire to maintain the livelihood of the incompetent family member. In government, political party loyalty can be a resistance-generating factor. In business, reluctance to discharge can occur when the consequences of the incompetence are subtle enough, or when they can be concealed.
Defenses and workarounds
It's helpful to know how to defend yourself against anti-patterns that represent threats to safety, relationships, emotional health, or career. For example, if you're the identified patient, begin by understanding that you aren't the cause of the group's troubles, and that you don't have to accept the designation. Then you can begin to search for the actual cause — or the actual causes — of the group's problems. And it's also helpful to know how to avoid an anti-pattern, or how to evade it.
Interventions
Helping the organization root out a specific anti-pattern is an admirable goal, if your organizational responsibilities include such activity. Determine first whether the needed actions are within your charter. If the issue is yours to address, what you do depends on the nature of the problem. Otherwise, you must choose whether to accept the situation as is, or bring it to the attention of someone who is empowered to act on it, or move on. It's a difficult choice.

In future issues we'll explore anti-patterns with this framework. In the queue already are Warlords; Ready, Fire, Aim; Utility Pole; Financial Nearsightedness; Refrigerator Territoriality; and Performance Review Revenge. Let me know if there's something special you'd like me to address. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I  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

For more about the Peter Principle, check out Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1969. Order from Amazon.com. We should note that the Peter Principle was first enunciated in the 1960s, when involuntary terminations were much less common than they are today. So although examples of the Peter Principle were more common 50 or 60 years ago, they are still in evidence.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenntUzanDKTHcWHsvZner@ChacJNbHkGgKSFqucCysoCanyon.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 Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of HawaiiWhen Meetings Boil Over
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979Accepting Reality
Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jetGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis CarrollHow to Avoid Getting What You Want
Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.
A laptop with password stickiesWhy We Don't Care Anymore
As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta), Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South AfricaComing May 15: Entry Intimidation
Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion, bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage. Available here and by RSS on May 15.
Portrait of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)And on May 22: Newtonian Blind Alleys: I
When we decide how to allocate organizational resources, we make assumptions about how the world works. Often outside our awareness, the thinking of Sir Isaac Newton influences our assumptions. And sometimes they lead us into blind alleys. Universality is one example. Available here and by RSS on May 22.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJBwueclRNAqhgIkPner@ChacFjkLTfISRozFCPDqoCanyon.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
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!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
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.