Ways to Kill a Team

– Set your own private agenda. People will notice, and once they realize that there are hidden agendas and undeclared goals, they’ll quit trying. Why try to win a game where you don’t even know the rules?

– Believe that you are better than anyone else on the team at their job – even if it’s true. Economists refer to the law of comparative advantage. Even if you truly are better at every task in your organization that the people working for you, don’t act on that. Focus your talents on those aspects where your value is most valuable.

– Fail to put yourself in others’ shoes. Especially customers’ shoes. Too often a company creates a strategy that’s good for the company, but not the customers. Netflix did it not too long ago, and it darn near killed them.

– Play Favorites. This leads to the next rule, dividing the group.

– Divide the group establish rivalries. Not to be confused with competition, which can be good. One way to tell the difference is by seeing how many people can win. If only a few people can, it’s a bad idea. Once classic example is a sales competition; for example, to say that whoever sells the most product in the next 90 days wins a trip to Hawaii. Most people on the team know that have no chance of winning, so why try at all?

– Restrict the flow of information. This is similar to having one’s own agenda – people will figure out that they are not seeing the whole picture, and therefore have little chance of “getting it right”, and so they will likely stop trying.

– Insist that you’re right and the others are wrong. There may be cases where you are indeed right and they are not, but find a way to let them discover that. Propose a test of evaluation. Take some time to explain background information they may not have considered.

– Think negatively or be a pessimist. A healthy skepticism is a good trait in an engineer or scientist, and in many other disciplines as well. There’s a difference between asking yourself, and the team, “what could go wrong?” versus “it can’t be done.” On the other hand, large or complex projects that break new ground are going to trip over unforeseen problems. Allow for it.

– Denying the existence of “bad news”. Some managers like to tell subordinates to never bring them bad news. This is a bad idea. As just mentioned, complex projects discover unforeseen factors; to assume there will be no problems just because you don’t know specifically what problems will occur is foolhardy. Give people the space to explain the challenges they are facing and to solicit help without being branded as “someone who couldn’t handle it.”

The corollary of this is Punish bad news, aka shoot the messenger. Don’t. Make a point of acknowledging them in front of the team, and praising them for identifying a problem early before it gets too complex.

– Guard your turf. Like private agendas and not sharing information, this causes other to decide not to play nicely with you, because you aren’t playing nicely with them.

– Hog credit. Give all credit to your team. Your credit was in assembling and leading them, not in the work they did – even if you did some of it.

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