Working in IT can be difficult at the best of times, with operational and organizational change often a particularly difficult “nut to crack.” We can, of course, use proven methodologies and techniques, such as those by Lewin and Kotter for organizational change or PRINCE2 and Agile for project management and development, but sometimes there is a very-human “spanner thrown in the works” – that of “undermining behavior.” And of course this does not only happen in times of change, and it does not only happen in IT, but when it does happen, it is wise to understand how to spot it and then how to deal with it.
This blog relates to a personal experience with undermining behavior and offers advice for dealing with it. IT is ultimately about people working together effectively and any such barriers to success need to be prevented wherever possible.
A new IT procurement process had been designed in a collaborative and inclusive manner, tested with multiple focus groups, and people trained across all the IT teams. Yet, for some reason, one IT team could not reach the desired metrics and outcomes of the new process.
We retrained that IT team. But there was no improvement. We talked with the IT team’s leader regarding the importance of the new procurement process. We were assured that the IT team understood the importance of the new process. We even received a commitment that the IT team’s leader would actively provide feedback on where his team was having difficulty with the new process. And, true to his word, he did provide specific occurrences showing where and how the new procurement process caused undue burden on his team.
It just didn’t make sense. Why did the new procurement process work for all other IT teams but seemed to fail only in this team? The data supported what the team leader was telling us – the new procurement process was unworkable for his team.
Thankfully though, the mystery was solved through a chance meeting with a team member from the affected team. The team member told me that the team leader did not like the new procurement process. Because the new process took the team leader out of the role of “IT hero.”
The team leader would no longer get to “save the day” for the customer, as the new procurement process made the data and outcomes more transparent. And so the team leader instructed his team to ask additional questions and to gather extra data that did not have a defined procedure for processing – thus making the new process untenable, time-wise, for the procurement task at hand. The team members would then ask what step to take with the additional data to which the team leader would reply “Don’t worry about it, I’ll handle it.” The team leader was undermining the new process to retain his position as an IT hero. The undermining of the new process for “personal gain” had caused myself and colleagues wasted time and effort, and had put the new cost-saving process in jeopardy for his own selfish reasons.
Hopefully, a similar experience has not happened to you. But if it has, or if you think it may, here are some tips to help spot and deal with such undermining behaviors.
A common definition for the term “undermine” is “to erode the base or foundation” or “to weaken or damage (someone or something), especially gradually or insidiously.” So to undermine is to weaken the position, goals, or success of something or someone – with “undermining behavior” in the workplace being the acts of another that are intended to either derail you and your intentions, or to promote the other person’s agenda at the expense of yours. It’s often done in an underhanded, secretive, or manipulative way with the aim of preventing you from achieving your objectives.
There are some common signs that you, your IT team, or your work are being undermined:
There are a number of approaches you can take when you are, or think you are, being undermined:
So there you have it, what do you do when you feel that you are being undermined at work?