As we've seen (see "Holding Back: I," Point Lookout for September 9, 2015), some team members voluntarily restrict their efforts for a variety of reasons. We can't always eliminate their holding back, but we can nevertheless act to reduce its effects.
Many strategies for reducing voluntary effort restraint entail arranging for members' contributions to be unique. When contributions are unique, holding back might be less tempting if people recognize that failure to contribute might be traceable. Perhaps more important, people feel more valued because of the uniqueness of their contributions. Clearly, this works only if they know that their contributions are unique, and only if they perceive that the group does indeed value those contributions.
But there are issues.
- Truly value team contributions
- Although making contributions traceable — and then tracking them — can be an important step in reducing the incidence of holding back, tracing the authorship of contributions can reduce the incidence of holding back only if the organization attaches value to those contributions. A more fundamental improvement might entail reviewing how the organization values every kind of team contribution.
- Have small and clearly defined teams and groups
- The larger the group of contributors, the more likely is holding back. Be clear about team composition and personal responsibilities. Any ambiguity can lead to holding back.
- Recognize contributions as contributions
- One kind of Many groups don't recognize
questions as actual contributionsvery valuable contribution is the brilliant question. In meetings, a brilliant question is one that brings a halt to the proceedings because it causes the group to recognize that it has missed something important. Yet, many groups don't recognize questions (of any kind, brilliant or not) as actual contributions. They regard answers to questions as more valuable than the questions themselves, even though discovering the question can be more difficult than finding its answer. Recognize all contributions for the value they do provide.
- Create passion and involvement
- Stimulating passion and involvement can even more effectively limit holding back, because it introduces positive motivation to contribute, which can overwhelm any temptation to hold back. Challenging — but still achievable — group goals can help. A challenging goal is one that's far enough out of reach that achieving it is somewhat questionable, but not so far out of reach that inevitable failure is obvious.
- Create unique, positive group identities
- When group members can base their own self-esteem, in part, on the group identity, they're more likely to contribute passionately to group success. But because those outside the group determine, to some extent, the quality of a group's identity, image management strategies might be necessary.
Most important, intervene quickly when holding back occurs. If someone begins holding back, others who see it might also begin to hold back, too, because of the sucker effect, fatigue, performance matching, or other reasons. Early and effective intervention can limit holding-back contagion, and the damage holding back can do. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- 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.
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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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.