In the project context, to coordinate is to organize events or activities across a group of people to help them work together effectively. The coordinator role often serves as a clearing agent for information, gathering data and distributing it across the project team. And sometimes, coordinators negotiate with team members to help them find ways around obstacles, conflicts in schedules, and conflicting agendas. Ethical coordinators are reliable sources for information about what some call the project's ground truth — its reality, its true status.
Unethical coordinators are up to something else. Their motives vary, but generally they have two sets of goals that can sometimes conflict. One goal, clearly, is the project's success. Another goal is more personal — the success of the organization or team they represent, or perhaps the success of their immediate supervisors. Coordinators who are in these conflict-of-interest situations are at risk of a breach of ethics when they place the personal goal above the project's success.
For example, consider an enterprise — call it OMC (Over Matched Corporation) — that's undertaking a large and complex project — call it Marigold — that requires sophisticated capabilities unavailable in-house. OMC has enlisted external assistance — call it LPC (Large Project Coordinators) — to coordinate Marigold. While it's true that LPC personnel want Marigold to succeed, they also want LPC to be seen as contributing to Marigold's success. And that situation can create a conflict of interest for LPC personnel. They must exercise their responsibilities with special care to avoid ethical breaches. Most do. Some don't.
To gain insight Project coordinators are at risk
of a breach of ethics when
they place personal goals
above the project's successinto the ethical difficulties relating to coordinating large projects, let's consider the relatively narrow topic of how LPC personnel might make decisions about Marigold project information. For convenience I'll use the name Larch to refer to LPC's coordinator on Marigold.
- Withholding information — or not
- When Larch takes minutes at meetings for distribution afterwards, he gathers status information about action items. When action item Daffodil is overdue, he can choose how he presents the reasons for it being late. Assume for the moment that the reasons for Daffodil being late do shelter Daffodil's owner from any repercussions. Larch might be more inclined to include those reasons in his meeting minutes if Daffodil had been assigned to LPC personnel, than he would be if it had been assigned to OMC personnel. He might also be more inclined to include that exculpatory information if Daffodil's owner is someone from OMC whom LPC favors. If his choice is influenced by whether or not LPC favors Daffodil's owner, he might have crossed the ethical line.
- Manufacturing information
- "Manufacturing" information includes creating it from whole cloth, but it also includes unusually energetic research to develop information that meets specific needs. For example, Larch might want to provide cover for an LPC mistake or lapse; or he might want to raise questions about the performance of an OMC employee or someone affiliated with a contractor other than LPC. Any such activity at odds with the truth, or undertaken for reasons other than Marigold's success, might constitute an ethical breach.
- Managing information flow
- Larch can also control the timing and targeting of information distributions. He can provide information earlier to some people than to others, which provides advantages to those who receive it early. For example, if he uncovers bad news about LPC performance, he can provide it to LPC personnel, who then have extra time to prepare responses or to fix whatever is amiss. He can do this for seemingly appropriate reasons: "I asked Nan to review the report for accuracy," or "I asked Ed for background on the Severn delays."
Detecting these kinds of ethical breaches is difficult for OMC personnel if LPC has tight control over Marigold information. The situation can easily develop into one in which the tail (LPC) wags the dog (OMC). Recognizing these tactics is a valuable first step. Prevention and possible correction of unethical coordinator behavior are topics for another time. Top Next Issue
Is 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 welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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.
More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Lateral Micromanagement
- Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another.
Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power
and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
- Extrasensory Deception: I
- Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong,
or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
- 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.
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Three Levels of Deception at Work
- Deception in workplace politics is probably less common than many believe. Still, being ensnared in
a deception can be a costly and upsetting experience. A valuable skill is recognizing the three types
of deceptions: strategic, operational, and tactical.
See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info