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Managing Group Politics With a Bitch : )

A Case Study of How One Poor Hire and a Merger Changed the Culture of an Organization

Once upon a time, in 1990, Team Jacobs was born with its first new hire, Bloodfang (dog).  Bloodfang was hired in a dual role of support staff and security.  He was brilliant and did his job with pride, and because he had a sharp wit and humor, he fit in well.  He could tell what was expected just by body language, which made delegation easy.  The only challenge with Bloodfang was keeping his brilliant mind engaged and focused on activities that benefited the team.  What management noticed was that when he got bored, he tended to engage in unproductive behavior such as leaving the premises at odd hours.  He was a bit of a rebel and broke rules that didn’t make sense to him.   Sometimes this was good, because it caused management to rethink its policies and procedures.  Sometimes it just resulted in a hairy couch.

Team Jacobs hired Knight (puppy) in 1996.  Business was booming at Team Jacobs, and Bloodfang needed some help.  Management was out of the office most of the time, and hiring Knight helped Bloodfang focus more on his support work.  There was an added benefit that Knight kept Bloodfang entertained, which make Team Jacobs a congenial place.

The problems all started with a poor hire and a poorly planned merger.

Eight years ago, Bloodfang developed cancer.  Fortunately, his condition turned out not to be life threatening, however, management realized that Bloodfang was nearing retirement age and that this would be a good opportunity to build the leadership pipeline.  Management realized that Knight had come to depend on Bloodfang’s guidance.  Bloodfang was able to help Knight perform at his best, especially during the period where he was losing his sight.  They had the impression that because of his declining health, Knight had little interest in assuming a leadership role. (Their first mistake.)

Management decided to look outside for new talent.  They met Ponca through a networking event hosted by the Coppell Humane Society.  She was young, pretty and outgoing.  She interviewed well, winning over all of management.  Team Jacobs was such a welcoming environment that they didn’t think to have her interview with Bloodfang or Knight.  (Their second mistake.)  Team Jacobs signed her on with a lifetime contract.

It was a disaster from the start.  While Ponca was perfectly capable of managing up, she was a bully to Knight and Bloodfang.  She shared none of the supplies and thought nothing of biting their heads off if they did something they didn’t like.  She’d even steal their food.  Then, she’d turn directly around and want to be friends, as if nothing had happened (what a bitch!).  Management nearly fired Ponca, lifetime contract or no lifetime contract, however, relations improved somewhat as Team Jacobs moved from the Storming phase into the Norming phase.  (They never did hit the Performing phase;  they’ve been on an 8 year cycle of Storm and Norm due to the power struggles with Ponca.)

In 2002, Team Jacobs started looking for a partner to re-energize the group.  Team McCall had expressed some interest, however, there was some concern about conflicting cultures.  Team Jacobs was a strictly dogs.  Team McCall was strictly cats.  Team Jacobs’ President preferred her more supportive and responsive dog team to the more aloof, disinterested cat team.  Team McCall found Team Jacobs’ support staff to be needy.  Team McCall could be left to their own devices for days, whereas Team Jacobs needed constant care and feeding.  After a period of due diligence, Teams Jacobs and McCall decided that diversity would make them stronger.

An unfortunate fire at Team McCall’s facilities necessitated the cats’ immediate relocation and sealed the deal.  The merger occurred forthwith (their third mistake).  There was no thought to arranging introductions or easing conflicts.  The cats were out of the fire and into the frying pan, so to speak.

Critter and Izzy, the support staff for Team McCall, came into the merger with a consistent, albeit distant relationship.  They fought little and have been known to cozy up when circumstances warranted.  They ate meals together every day, and Critter felt free to pick whatever she wanted off of Izzy’s plate.  Critter was definitely the dominant character, and as long as Critter felt stronger than her counterpart, the relationship continued unchanged for many years, even with the insertion of the Team Jacobs’ President into their daily lives.

Critter left dealing with the dogs to Izzy.  She refused to relinquish her position as team lead and chose to ignore the dogs instead.  She became more of a whiner and resorted to being shrill when she didn’t get exactly what she wanted.  Management chose to ignore this, hoping it would go away.  It got worse.  She now waits until management is engaged with something else or is on the phone to start her whining.

Izzy has been with Team McCall the longest and knows its rules the best.  She is a rule follower, and she works quietly unless provoked.  She comes out of her shell when she interfaces with the members of the dog team and would manage them effectively if given the chance.  She’s put them in their place more than once when they’ve overstepped.  She works independently, but doesn’t hesitate to speak up when she needs something.  Management from both teams favored her others because of her independent nature and because she can be warm and friendly to them.

Critter and Izzy were not impressed with their new arrangement.  They found the dog staff to be overbearing and rude.  The dogs’ constant invasion of their personal space antithetical to the norms of their cat culture.  Furthermore, Critter was openly hostile to Team Jacobs’ President, and it was clear that Izzy reluctantly tolerated her.

On the other hand, Team Jacobs welcomed the CEO of Team McCall with open paws and put all of their energies into currying his favor.  The President of Team Jacobs did not like the abdication of the entire team’s loyalty to Team McCall.  She considered firing the cats, but didn’t want that to be seen as a gesture of ill-will so soon after the merger.

Bloodfang left Team Jacobs-McCall a little over a year after the merger which left Ponca as the alpha dog.  Knight, albeit less focused and not as able to maintain a straight path, challenged Ponca daily.  He did not appreciate that her leadership role was simply assumed as a right of passage.  He’d been with Team Jacobs longer, and he couldn’t believe that bitch was being promoted.  He pointed out that Ponca was nothing but an overbearing bully and had only come into the leadership position by stepping on him on the way up.

Management realized that they’d not developed her leadership skills at all, and that she got her way solely through fear and intimidation.  Ponca simply had no Emotional Intelligence to build relationships or manage conflict.  Today, neither dog is in a leadership role.  Both elected to become individual contributors, which has led to less ambition and engagement.  In another company that doesn’t offer lifetime employment, they’d be targets for a layoff.

Management realized that the organization wasn’t optimized for maximum performance and that a reorganization was in order.  Since the President of Team Jacobs-McCall now had much more interaction with the cat team, she was given dotted line and more supervisory responsibility over the cats.  However, the President of Team Jacobs-McCall felt that Izzy and Critter were too loyal and deferential to their previous supervisor, and she grew tired of the subtle, catty slights from them.  She also felt like the cats were a little too comfortable in their present circumstances and needed some fresh ideas to jump start them. (And, let’s face it; she wanted someone on the cat team whose first loyalty was to her.)

She found her “yes cat” in Boy.  He was hired because he seemed to have all of the good traits of Izzy without her detachment.  Boy is very laid back, like Izzy, and does a great job managing up.  He comes quickly when management calls, a trait the President of Team Jacobs-McCall appreciates.  Most of her managerial experience is with dogs, and she is most comfortable with a support staff who does her bidding immediately.

Boy also represents a new generation in the workplace (Millennial).  He wants to be a key contributor to the success of Team Jacobs-McCall, but he doesn’t believe in sacrificing his personal growth or creature comforts.  For instance, he did not feel that the bathroom facilities were adequate enough for his fastidious nature, and as a concession, Management upgraded them.  Management also upgraded the lounge area, after several incidents with Izzy and Critter in which they purloined his chair.  The Boy also required more toys to stimulate his imagination and creativity, and those toys have been shared across the team.  The snacks in the vending area have also improved, at Boy’s request.  All in all, Boy’s demands have improved the situation for the entire staff, and he provides excellent service in return.

Boy’s arrival has shifted the dynamics of the team in ways that the President of Team Jacobs-McCall could not have predicted.

Early on, the Critter and Izzy banded together to resist Boy.  They were not shy about hissing at him in public or in front of Management.  At some point, they realized that their hissing and back biting would not alter Management’s view.  Izzy withdrew, avoiding him as much as possible.  Critter saw some advantage to befriending Boy, and now they work together daily.  Critter and Boy have taken to eating together, and Izzy usually eats alone (which is OK with her, because at least now Critter isn’t always taking her food.)  The best result is that the entire cat team’s performance has improved, and they are treating management with much more respect.

Izzy avoided Boy as much as possible.  He pushed her to run faster and interact more, and she lashes out at him when she felt provoked.  She has quietly complained to Management a few times about his harassment, however Management thinks she’s overreacting and should “just lighten up.”  (Management knows it isn’t sexual harassment, as he’s been neutered.)

Since Boy joined the group, Izzy has grown to like the improved accommodations that the whole team received when Boy came on board, including the treats that the President of Team Jacobs-McCall now provides for the entire team.

As time has passed, the dog team seems to have mended its rift.  They hang out together socially, and sometimes they even include the cats.  The culture at Team Jacobs-McCall is more a cat-dog mix.  Management has learned that consistently rewarding the desired behavior has yielded this positive outcome, and although had they held and reinforced their vision and values and enlisted the teams’ commitment through consistent feedback, they would have achieved the “best of both worlds” blended culture sooner.

The End

So, does anyone think I spend too much time in the home office?

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