Is the tail wagging the dog on your team?

Grace Andrews raises a number of good issues in the post Managing to the 2%. She points out that teams, managers, and organizations often go too far when addressing problems that apply to only a few employees.

An example might be implementing a daily written status-reporting structure because a single team member communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, despite the fact that everyone else routinely shares all relevant task status information.

Overreacting, by creating new rules, policies, and procedures, is equivalent to letting the (2%) “tail” wag the (98%) “dog.”

So what is the fall out of this behavior? Think about it. When the 98% wake up, smell the coffee, and realize they are being “ruled” to death because of a few who aren’t contributing, the dynamic of the whole team is in jeopardy. Morale suffers; it takes twice as long to maneuver because of the restrictions put in place for the 2%. Employees end up feeling disempowered, and if the focus on managing to the 2% continues, turnover increases.

Organizations that have worked diligently to foster a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration may find their progress unraveling with each new policy. The most effective team members will recognize that new rules would be otherwise unnecessary if not for the 2% and, therefore, resent the unwarranted burden.

Andrews offers a few suggestions:

  • Before adopting any new policy or rule, consider whether it is for the 2% or the 98%.
  • Don’t let the 2% bog down the team; manage them up or out.
  • Practice transparency; when team members know what is going on it is hard for the 2% to gain a foothold.

I offer this additional suggestion:

Engage the entire team in deciding what policies and rules are needed to accomplish the objectives.

In the example of the single employee who communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, the team is unlikely to endorse a burdensome procedure of mostly unnecessary daily reports. A better solution is more likely to emerge from the combined contributions of the team. Team members will be empowered to establish their own rules and standards. The dog will once again wag the tail.

As an added bonus, the open deliberation process will help demonstrate how the behavior of the 2% is viewed by their colleagues.

Read Grace Andrew’s full article at FastCompany.com.


Photograph comes from Flickr by SoozieQ. I cropped the picture to show only the beautiful tail.


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2 Responses to Is the tail wagging the dog on your team?

  1. Frank Roche says:

    Ugh, the dreaded “death by rules.” I never liked it as a kid in Catholic school, and I especially don’t like it as an adult. Slackers need to be dealt with as slackers…and be gone. Setting up extras rules, as you point out, doesn’t work.

  2. Thanks for weighing in Frank! Absolutely agreed on the “death by rules” sentiment.

    There’s more than one way to bring focus to bear on the 2% without weighing down the whole organization. For that matter, a rule that applies to everyone is unlikely to get the attention of a “slacker” (to use your term) whereas a more pointed approach isolated to the specific problem will have a better chance.

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