Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 43;   October 24, 2007: Worst Practices

Worst Practices

by

We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.
Mustang stallions fighting

Mustang stallions fighting. With tooth and hoof, stallions use these fights — most often — to settle differences of opinion about reproductive rights. The mares usually accept the result of these conflicts, though they do occasionally object. The social system of the wild horse functions to optimize the fitness of the next generation, because in Nature, there's little room for anything less than the best. Organizations can learn much from Nature's systems. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

The mythology about best practices is that they universally improve every organization. The truth is more likely that organizations are so idiosyncratic that any practice born elsewhere probably needs tailoring before it can be imported. My old shoes are very comfortable for me, but they probably aren't for you.

Worst practices are different — they're almost universally disastrous. We know this because, sadly, nearly everyone tries them. Here's a short list of some worst practices.

  • Provide only outdated equipment. Even better: make people share outdated equipment.
  • For security, lock all portable computers to desks
  • Never, ever train anybody
  • Use training as a reward. Provide it only to those who need it least.
  • To increase productivity, increase pressure
  • Let acrimony persist until it's truly injurious
  • Leave in place people who are clearly incapable of doing much of anything
  • Assign blame
  • Spend time defending yourself in case someone, someday decides to assign blame
  • Take credit for work done by subordinates or colleagues
  • Give credit to one person for what was a team effort, ignoring everyone else's contributions
  • Kill the messenger: punish people who deliver bad news
  • Kill the non-messenger: after you get bad news, punish those who knew about it but didn't tell you because you have a reputation for killing the messenger
  • Force consensus by shaming or punishing those few souls foolish enough to disagree with the "correct" position
  • Force consensus without allowing time for sufficient discussion
  • Make decisions autocratically even when there's time for consensus
  • Have favorite subordinates who can do no wrong
  • The worst thing about
    worst practices isn't their
    consequences; it's that we
    keep using them despite
    their consequences
    Have troubled subordinates who can do no right, even when they do right
  • As team owner, publicly castigate team members
  • Publicly overrule a subordinate manager, citing information obtained from one of his or her subordinates
  • "Sit in" on a subordinate's meeting unannounced
  • Make the problem excessively complicated by raising herds of ancillary minor issues
  • Angrily say things that hurt people, damaging the group's ability to collaborate
  • Add new people to the team. Even better: do it in a way that raises questions about the abilities of incumbents
  • "Temporarily" transfer some team member(s) to another effort
  • Conduct "emergency" project reviews regularly
  • Increase the budget without warning
  • Decrease the budget
  • Circulate rumors that maybe we'll be cutting the budget
  • Tighten project scope to maintain schedule
  • Use (faked) schedule urgency as a way of managing spending
  • Remove or relax some requirements
  • After work is well underway, add new requirements or tighten existing requirements
  • Reassign some work from one team member to another
  • Assign the same work to two people (or teams) without their knowing it
  • Assign to one person work already completed by another
  • Assign work to two people, together, without designating either one as lead

Count how many of these you've seen. Even scarier: count how many you've done. Go to top Top  Next issue: Illusory Incentives  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenQVmPYJNISNESkSOLner@ChacAuRuOHlWsFBwdjZNoCanyon.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 Workplace Politics:

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran ConferenceHostile Collaborations
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?
The Gatun Locks of the Panama CanalThe Power of Situational Momentum
For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.
A Hug-Free Zone posterUnwanted Hugs from Strangers
Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while, this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?
Demolished vehicles line Highway 80, also known as the "Highway of Death"Reactance and Micromanagement
When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden, or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
Red raspberriesEgo Depletion: An Introduction
Ego depletion is a recently discovered phenomenon that limits our ability to regulate our own behavior. It explains such seemingly unrelated phenomena as marketing campaign effectiveness, toxic conflict contagion, and difficulty losing weight.

See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZdnKbVlACBjsQUUyner@ChacPRaGratXJpAmyFSmoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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 Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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 Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
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.