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(Very) Difficult Teams - 19 August 2014

If you’re a fan of Mafia flicks, you’d be familiar with the concept of a Mob.  It’s a term used to describe a group of people who team up for nefarious purposes.  Mobs exist in the workplace, too, and there’s a funky verb used (surprisingly) by academia to describe what they do: mobbing.  Mobbing occurs when employees get together and stay together, united by their aim to antagonise.

Their target could be a colleague, a customer, a stakeholder or … it could be you.  It’s not unusual for a leader to lead a difficult team, the employees of which consistently display negative behaviours towards the boss.  Their ambition is to make life tough until such time that the leader is weakened by feelings of inferiority, incompetence, and helplessness.  

A new study conducted by three Italian universities has shed some valuable insights on what causes workplace mobbing.  In particular, the researchers looked at three potential triggers: 

   (i)    Individual factors
   (ii)   Organisational factors
   (iii)   Leadership factors

Each of those will be described in the following paragraphs.  As you read them, see if you can guess which one was found to stimulate the rise of workplace mobbing the most.

Individual factors represent employees’ personality traits (such as envy and over-ambition) and personal situations (such as the fear of losing their employment).  

Organisational factors represent the poor design of their jobs, excessive workloads, broken promises, company crises, and unfair reward systems.

Leadership factors represent the leader being too authoritative or, more neglectfully, failing to communicate, consult and delegate.

So which one of those three do you think came out on top – by far – as the most likely cause of workplace mobbing?  If you selected the Leadership option, you’re correct.  To remedy the problem, the researchers suggested leaders should adopt these practices:

   -   Lead by example:  behave in accordance with the high standards you expect
   -   Participative decision-making:  solicit (and act on) the team’s ideas and opinions 
   -   Coach:  provide the team with help, training, feedback, support and recognition
   -   Inform:  explain (don’t just dictate) decisions, goals, rules and expectations
   -   Show concern:  genuinely care about, and get along with, each team member

And of those five, which one do you think was the most successful at minimising the risk of mobbing?  The answer: participative decision-making.  Which goes to show that, even with difficult teams, the solution can be as simple as listening to your employees and putting in place, as much as you can, their suggestions.  Because being a leader sometimes means working alongside people rather than ahead of them.


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