Protecting your team in a competitive workplace

Laura Stack — №22 with Crystal Paine

It’s a jungle in here! If you’ve ever worked for a large organization, then you know your co-workers don’t always reserve their competition for external targets. They care most about their own productivity, not yours—so when times get tough, they may come looking for easy pickings within the company. As a result, you may find yourself fighting for limited resources, scrambling to get and keep everything you need to survive. As a leader, you have to protect yourself and your team members from predatory behavior.

Fight your corner

To many people, the very idea of a manager fighting for the team’s sake seems about as likely as a pig flying. In this dog-eat-dog world, too many leaders display more concern for their own welfare than for anyone else’s. This should come as no surprise, given role models like Enron, Arthur Andersen, AIG, and the other financial institutions rewarded for their spectacular failures in the Great Bank Bailout.

But great leaders know they can’t succeed without sharp, well-maintained tools — and a top-notch team happens to be the best of those tools. Great leaders are also good people, so show your team members you care for them beyond their contributions to team productivity. Here’s how:

  1. Tell your senior leadership exactly what you need. Team leaders who stand up and ask for the resources they need are more likely to get them than shrinking violets are. Make your arguments simple and clear, proving that it’s in the company’s best interests to provide for your team.

  2. Remain a team player. Even as you work to provision your personal team, make it clear you’re still part of the larger team. If accused of building your own little empire, show others how your goals are aligned with the organization’s strategic goals and move the entire company forward, not just your team.

  3. Work around the bureaucrats. We’ve all encountered hidebound “dinosaur brains” who block us for petty reasons. Find ways to go around them to do what’s best for the team. But be careful: some bottlenecks may feel threatened if you do so too overtly. As a result, they may either become more stiff-necked or simply cause more trouble for you. Communicate directly and firmly: you don’t have time to tiptoe around them.

  4. Prove your team’s value. Make sure your superiors understand how your team contributes to the bottom line and how important you are to the company. Meanwhile, do everything you can to add value to your team, from dealing firmly with potential troublemakers to implementing innovative processes and tightening up workflow. Maintain a positive outlook, cultivating it in your team members as well, encouraging them to suggest new ideas or concepts that can improve the entire organization. Make your team indispensable, so you come to mind immediately when it’s time for your leaders to allocate scarce resources.

  5. Advocate for your team. Not only are you your team’s manager, you act as their advocate — whether a single member has gotten sideways with HR or an executive, or you need to protect your entire team at belt-tightening time. Most disengaged workers don’t trust their managers or expect their bosses to go to bat for them. Losing people often damages morale, which further damages productivity. The only exception is a worker whose attitude or incompetence has damaged the team—getting rid of these people can indeed be beneficial.

  6. Take a bullet for them. Back in the mid-2000s, electronics giant Circuit City quietly expired for reasons having mostly to do with mismanagement and overextended reach. When times got tough after the dot-com bubble burst, they decided to do some belt-tightening. They then proceeded to ensure their demise by laying off nearly all of their most experienced (and therefore highest-paid) sales associates, who knew their departments backwards and forwards, replacing them with minimum-wage newbies. When employees could no longer answer their electronics questions — or even find the right products in the store—customers stopped coming, and the company soon went belly-up. The Circuit City management team could have sacrificed some of their executive perks to save the same amount of money, but they didn’t. Lee Iacocca cut his own salary to $1 a year more than once while leading Chrysler. It’s not as if the idea hasn’t occurred to anyone else, but most team leaders worry more about themselves than their teams. So they let their teams get gutted when they themselves feel threatened, forgetting that every team member lost means lower productivity and diminished success for the team as a whole.

Don’t give in!

When things get so bad that the buzzards start circling even within your company, step up and protect your team. You may have to take it on the chin sometimes, but give as good as you get and, above all, block the poachers who want to take your people and resources to protect their own positions and productivity. Be sure your superiors know you remain a team player — but realize too that a good team player is one who does his or her best to remain strong, alert, and active. Keep your eyes open, and do everything reasonable to maintain or to exceed your team’s current profitability without hurting anyone else’s prospects. When you do that, you’ve helped the entire organization.

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Photo: Flickr / peterned CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Laura stack

Laura Stack

Laura Stack is America’s premier expert in productivity. For over 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro®, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.

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