Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Factions

A key test of the sophistication maturity level of a workplace is the extent to which factions are tolerated.

High tolerance for factions = Low sophistication and immaturity.

This is hardly surprising. What does shock is the extent to which factions are permitted by supervisors who should know better. Some supervisors of limited skills join one or more of the sub-groups. Others, who may think themselves wiser, play manipulative games and increase the level of distrust. The result, however, is the same: Team cohesiveness is severely damaged or destroyed.

In my experience, these negative practices are not adopted overnight. They grow slowly. Gossip is permitted here. A caste system develops there. A maverick is ostracized. A dissenting voice is squelched. People are given undesirable labels. Favoritism begins to flourish, lines are drawn, and one day, the team finds that it is no longer a team.

Leaders have to catch these bad actions before they become habits. They have to watch for the tendrils of factions much as a gardener keeps an eye open for pests, weeds, and fungi. At the first sign, the leader must act firmly and clearly to declare that the behavior is unacceptable.

During the Second World War, General Eisenhower's efforts to prevent the fracturing of the Anglo-American military alliance were well known. When informed that an American officer, while drinking in London, had declared that the Americans would show the British how to fight, Eisenhower became "white with rage." As historian Stephen Ambrose describes the incident: [Eisenhower] summoned an aide and told him to arrange for the officer to report the next morning. As the aide left the office, Eisenhower hissed to [General Hastings] Ismay, "I'll make the son of a bitch swim back to America." The officer was sent home - by boat.

In another incident, a British officer defended an American who called him a son of a bitch, noting that the term is "sometimes used as a term of endearment." Eisenhower replied, "I am informed that he called you a British son of a bitch. That is quite different. My ruling stands."

The American was reduced in rank and sent back to the United States.


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