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 all to adapt to the changing circumstances are the foundation of that demonstration of confidence. And that sense of confidence is contagious. It enables the team to deliver despite the Bad Trouble, while sustaining in the team a strong sense of caring for each other.
- Two kinds of collaborations are likely to appear soon after the people of the organization become generally aware that Bad Trouble has arrived. 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 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] 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." If you are a person, you can resign or otherwise exit the organization. If you are an organizational entity, you can reorganize yourself out of existence, or spin yourself off into a new form. Whether you are a person or an entity, Flight might result in separation from the problem by leaving it behind, or the problem might come along with you in some form. Relocating or reforming yourself doesn't always address the real problem. First in this series Top Next Issue
Projects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .
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.
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:
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of nonverbal insults.
- Failure Foreordained
- Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance.
But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell
whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised
processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Reframing Revision Resentment: I
- From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks,
an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration,
and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease
- On Reporting Workplace Malpractice
- Reporting workplace malpractice can be the right thing to do. And it's often career-dangerous. Here
are some risks to ponder before reporting what you know.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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