Some people are on the team, but aren't really part of it. They seem to hang back. They do their jobs, but there's no sparkle and little pride. Their social connections are limited to a few people, if any. Most interactions are directly related to their responsibilities. They show little initiative, even though they're capable of more than they're actually doing.
Because this pattern can keep the team from reaching its potential, it pays to ask, "What's going on?"
To solve puzzles like this, many look only (or almost only) at the person who's hanging back. And in some cases, the explanation does lie there, within. But in my experience, that's rarely the full story. It might not be even a small part of the story. More often, hanging back results from the dynamics of the team, in which the person who's hanging back might play only a small role. And some of the contributing causes might even lie outside the team.
Here's Part I of a short catalog of factors that can cause some people to hang back.
- Virtual isolation
- When some members of virtual teams are geographically isolated from all other members, they can find it difficult to form relationships with people they've never met, or never will meet. If they believe that they'll have little interaction with teammates in the future, they might invest little in building relationships now, especially if they've encountered even slight difficulties in past attempts. They just do their jobs and prepare to move on. Thus arises one of the hidden costs of virtual teams: depressed initiative for isolated team members.
- Pariah roles
- Some roles When some members of virtual teams
are geographically isolated from all
other members, they can find it
difficult to form relationships
with people they've never metare considered "less than." These people are on the team, but their opinions aren't valued. They do a particular piece of work, and that's all they are expected or permitted to contribute. Not only are their opinions and observations undervalued, they aren't even sought. Their unsolicited contributions often land with a "plop," and are promptly ignored, until, in some cases, those same contributions are offered by someone less of a pariah.
- Drive-by team members
- These people are assigned to the team part-time and temporarily, along with several other assignments that they have in parallel. Their expertise is rare within the organization, and the team regards itself as lucky to have a slice of the drive-by team member's time, on any conditions. They schedule team meetings at the convenience of their drive-bys, and they permit the drive-bys to attend just part of the meeting. When the drive-by shows up for a meeting, the team immediately drops what they're doing to address the drive-by's agenda item. Drive-bys regard the team as inferior, and themselves as superior. They offer little to the team beyond the rare expertise that the team needs so desperately.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When Power Attends the Meeting
- When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost
inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting
in on the meetings of your subordinates.
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed.
We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: I
- Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can
agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving
on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
- Not Really Part of the Team: II
- When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility
that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold
responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
- The Perils of Limited Agreement
- When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement
is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 21: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on March 21.
- And on March 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IV
- Narcissistic behavior at work is more damaging than rudeness or egotism. It leads to faulty decisions that compromise organizational missions. In this part of the series we examine the effects of constant demands for attention and admiration. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.