Withholding our energy, what we know, or even what we guess might be true, can hurt our teams when they face difficult situations. Unless team members feel safe enough to take reasonable risks, they limit their contributions to such an extent that team performance can suffer. Here's Part II of our little catalog of factors that can cause team members to hang back. Read Part I for more.
- Bully targets
- Some team members bully others, who then withdraw to find safety. They don't speak at meetings unless required to. They volunteer neither effort, nor opinion, nor information. They might be motivated, in part, by bitterness or anger, but the initial motivation is fear, which usually remains central. If bullying occurs in meetings, the team lead bears some responsibility, but if the bullying occurs elsewhere, the team might be unaware of it.
- Indirect bully targets
- Some people, aware of bullying by one or more team members, aren't targets themselves. Intimidated into near-silence, they seek safety by hanging back, depriving the team of their contributions. Their withholding seems mysterious, because there are no direct interactions that could explain it.
- Clique excludees
- Some teams harbor cliques whose relationships are much stronger than their relationships with other team members. Even when the clique intends no malice, others can feel excluded. Over time, perceived exclusionary incidents can cause excludees to "check out." They cease trying to gain acceptance, because previous efforts have produced such small returns. Clique members then might feel judged, and might begin to actively exclude the excludees. Enmity can develop from nothing.
- Airdropped team leads
- The airdropped team lead (ADTL) arrived when the previous team lead left unexpectedly. Unhappy about the assignment, the ADTL sometimes knows (or cares) little about the task or the team's status, which can prevent the ADTL from anticipating difficulties, or resolving existing difficulties. Viewing their assignments as dues to be paid, ADTLs accept them believing that "stepping up" will help their careers. ADTLs sometimes set unachievable goals for their teams, either out of repressed anger, out of ignorance, or to prove their own worth.
- Some team members Some team members bully
others, who then withdraw
to find safetyare replacements for those reassigned following a "staff raid" by another team. Replacements are sometimes less capable than the people they replace. When they and the rest of the team know or believe that, replacements can feel unwanted and "less than." Unless replacements feel respected, they can withdraw into themselves, thinking that by just doing their jobs they can get through this assignment and someday find one that comes with some respect.
With so many alternative explanations to consider, it's remarkable how often — and how quickly — people decide that the person who hangs back is the only one making the bad choice. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- Inappropriate Levels of Regard
- The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they
do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: 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 April 4.
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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.