As noted last time, Bad Trouble is the kind of tangle that involves much of the organization. People focus on it intently for weeks or months or more. They worry about the security of their jobs, or the future of the organization. As described last time, a common approach to coping with Bad Trouble is concealment, or deflecting the attention of those who assume responsibility for resolving the trouble.
But there are also a few coping strategies that are more constructive. Below is a brief catalog of coping strategies I've personally witnessed.
- Act responsibly
- When Bad Trouble first becomes clear, the choice to act responsibly can be frightening, but it often leads to the safest and most effective path. To act responsibly is to accept Bad Trouble's consequences for yourself, until you can find a resolution of the trouble.
- Those consequences can be dire in the short term. But if you're certain that you can deal with what comes in the short term, having acted responsibly can be the key to long-term survival.
- Demonstrate leadership
- As Bad Trouble becomes obvious to all, and some start behaving in ways inconsistent with the high ideals of the organization, to demonstrate leadership is to demonstrate a confident belief that the team can find a path forward. [Nichols 2020]
- Prompt decisions A common approach to coping with Bad
Trouble is concealment, or deflecting the
attention of those who assume responsibility
for resolving it. But there are also a few
more constructive coping strategies.that enable everyone to adapt to the changing circumstances are the foundation of that demonstration of confidence. And that sense of confidence is contagious. It enables teams to deliver despite the Bad Trouble, while sustaining in them a strong sense of caring for each other.
- Soon after the people of the organization become generally aware that Bad Trouble has arrived, two kinds of collaborations are likely to appear. Collaborations of the First Kind are designed to conceal, deny, or otherwise minimize the existence of the Bad Trouble. These collaborations are best regarded as conspiracies.
- Collaborations of the Second Kind are alliances intended to resolve the Bad Trouble — to apply problem-solving techniques to limit the damage that might otherwise occur. These collaborations are best regarded as problem-solving teams. One approach such collaborations employ involves distributing responsibility for resolution across a set of people that either have a solution in hand or have the resources needed to find one. If that isn't possible, they might distribute the consequences of living with the problem across a set of people so large that they can readily accept the consequences if they know trouble is happening.
- Both kinds of collaborations can arise contemporaneously. Some people can belong to collaborations of both kinds. Involvement with a conspiracy is risky if you intend to remain in the organization for a significant period, because conspiracies tend to unravel with time. Involvement with a problem-solving team is preferable — provided a problem solution actually exists.
- Addressing some forms of Bad Trouble requires the attention and energy of people with more organizational power than is possessed by the people who are most affected by the Bad Trouble. Indeed, the more powerful might even be unaware of the Bad Trouble until someone who's affected delivers the news.
- Making the decision to escalate might require courage. In some cultures, escalating entails a risk of being disciplined for escalating prematurely or unnecessarily. Those who "own" the escalation procedures are obliged to make escalation criteria clear and unambiguous. They don't always fulfill these obligations effectively. If you're unsure about escalation, carefully consider balancing the risk of escalation against the consequences of failing to escalate an issue that you should have escalated.
- Apply technology
- This approach is attractive in high power distance cultures [Brenner 2019.1] where people expect that the tools they already have should be sufficient for addressing any problem that might arise.
- To apply technology to resolve the Bad Trouble, people in such organizations find a tool or technique that makes the problem vanish, or which enables them to continue with their routine responsibilities while leaving the problem in place. This latter method is sometimes called a "workaround." Because they don't escalate the Bad Trouble, and because they assume that the solution must be close at hand, people in high power distance cultures sometimes use indefinitely workarounds that are more costly than actual solutions would be.
One more strategy for coping with Bad Trouble isn't really a coping strategy, even though it is in wide use. One might call it "Flight" or possibly, "Evasion." People can resign or otherwise exit the organization. Organizations can reorganize themselves out of existence, or spin themselves off into new forms. For persons and organizations, Flight might result in separation from the problem by leaving it behind, or the problem might come along in some form. Relocating or reorganizing doesn't always address the real problem. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
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don't fit the reality of their organizations. Here's Part II of a framework for making decisions that fit.
- Grace Under Fire: III
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the key to survival.
- Workplace Politics and Social Exclusion: I
- In the workplace, social exclusion is the practice of systematically excluding someone from activities
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
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