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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bad Team Politics


I was in a restaurant with a management team of a small company sometime last year. They treated me to dinner to, as they said pick my brains (They have to find it first). They were concerned about some employees' behaviors and are split between two options. One is to take a sweeping action by calling everyone and start a dialogue with all the employees upon the request of a small number of instigators who wrote to management asking for a dialgoue to "once-and-for-all" settle "issues". The other option is to have the immediate managers of the instigators speak with them because some managers believe these issues can be addressed at that level. While I agreed to the latter and not the former, that is not the issue for me. The issue is that some of those seated with me have hidden agendas and are not upfront with their feelings. I observed that a few of them know the employees' so-called issues and are secretly supporting them in their pursuit of their agendas.

I said, "since you asked me for my opinion, will you allow me to be brutally honest about it?".When I got the permission, I pounced. I pointed to some members of the management team and looked them in the eyes. "I think you know what's going on and you are secretly supporting it." You come to management meeting saying you support the idea of a dialogue to know what's going on and what the employees concerns are when you already know what's going in the first place. Why can't you just tell the other managers so your team can make a better informed decision?" The managers were too embarassed to say they know everything so they said, they know some. The question about why they can't tell the other managers what they know, they can't explain. I had an explanation. I told them they don't trust each other enough to have an open communication that's why some of you resort to back channeling to pursue your agenda, a sad thing for a tiny company to have ( or a big company for that matter). I also said that if you cannot change the way you work together, you will never achieve your full potential as a team. The management team as a formal organization will say go that way, while one or two will criticize the direction or the strategy in front of their staffs or when faced with criticism, disown the management decision by saying, I was out-voted or I had nothing to do with it. When you have managers liked by employees saying those things, you're gonna have a hard time getting organizational commitment.

You see, this is why I agree that teamwork should start with management. The management should strive to build a cohesive, trusting and openly communicating management team. A team where members trust each other enough at a fundamental level that they can share ideas, feelings, criticize, argue, call each others' attention while at the same time fully commit and take ownership of team decisions especially when these decisions face criticism from others.

The formula is simple but the execution is not easy. Some beliefs and habits have to be changed. If your management team exhibit similar behaviors as the team I'm talking about, it is highly possible that you are suffering from the five dysfunctions of a team. I suggest that you seek ways to address them because they are barriers to achieving your management team hence, your company's full potential. If you need help, call me. I run a management teambuilding program using Patrick Lencioni's prescription on how to overcome the five dysfunctions of a team. Back channel politics waste time and money. It also stops you from achieving your full team potential. Act now.

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