Unmasking Rebellion: Overcoming Hidden Power Struggles in the Workplace

Unmasking Rebellion: Overcoming Hidden Power Struggles in the Workplace

In today's dynamic work environment, managers often face hidden power struggles and disruptive elements within their teams. By understanding the dynamics of "double-bottom" teams, leaders can effectively address manipulation, sabotage, and internal conflicts to maintain harmony and foster cooperation. We asked Mikhail Korchemkin, CIO at Vladimirsky Standart, to share his insights into avoiding pitfalls of covert actions and promoting a culture of collaboration, trust, and mutual respect in the workplace.

No one can argue that a manager's effectiveness is often reflected in subordinates. All teams, regardless of size, have similar challenges as they are a mirror of human beings. As we know, there are two ways to interact:

  • Manipulation
  • Cooperation (symbiosis)

These two interaction types because they are mutually exclusive. For instance, you can't manipulate someone and cooperate with them simultaneously, as manipulation inherently involves unequal treatment rather than mutually beneficial cooperation.

Manipulation can sometimes lead to destructive outcomes, such as creating a team with a "double bottom." In this scenario, a team member (not always the leader) begins to pursue their ambitions by plotting and provoking. If left unchecked, this manipulation can result in unfortunate consequences.

In contrast, cooperation requires establishing clear "rules of the game" from the outset. Without these rules, negativity may arise within the team, particularly between related units. The principle is that the entire unit serves the organization it works for and continually improves the organization using lean production practices, helping it reach new heights and successes.

Explain your "brilliant ideas" with company management, providing the potential outcomes and issues they may bring. If approved, you can proceed happily; if not, it's crucial to outline the organization's potential risks in detail and, if possible, calculate the losses resulting from these issues.

Sometimes, these initiatives may fail. In such cases, it's necessary to adhere to the principles exclusively within the team. It's not the end of the world. With a frequency of every three weeks (as psychologists claim habits form in 21 days), you should repeat requests to management or set a specific deadline to revisit the topic. However, the shortest possible time frame is often justified by potential consequences.

Returning to the so-called "manufactured actions," these actions can be of several types:

  • Italian strikes;
  • Open sabotage;
  • Covert sabotage;
  • Group resignation.

Italian strikes, also known as obstruction or work-to-rule, are a form of strike where employees follow instructions to the letter, often ignoring common sense. The most frightening aspect of this phenomenon is that the employee remains at their post, performing their job, but working strictly according to instructions. This, combined with the bureaucratic nature of job descriptions, makes the work virtually impossible.

These strikes are resolved either by dismissing the leaders or initially accepting the protesters' conditions afer the movement's leaders being dismissed. Because once employees have achieved their goal through such a protest, it's easier to change the collective than to extinguish these actions every 2-3 months.

Open sabotage isn't fatal, but it's inconvenient. The perpetrator should simply be deprived of the opportunity to commit sabotage. Covert sabotage is slightly more complicated, as you need to answer three questions: who, when, and why. After answering these questions, you should act as in the open sabotage scenario.

Lastly, the most intriguing scenario (which I experienced in January 2023) is the group resignation. This often occurs in "double-bottom" teams. Any group tends to follow a leader, and while leadership in the animal kingdom is determined by a duel between the leader and challenger, things are more complex in the human world.

Conspiracies, intrigues, persuasions, and even lies and exaggerations are employed. The goal is to incite a revolution, overthrow the leader with the force of the crowd, create panic within the organization, and force management to choose between losing one leader or 10-15 people. However, rebellion leaders often fail to consider that their covert actions are visible because there is always a "snitch" in every team. Many clever schemes crumble due to people's inability to restrain their thoughts, words, and emotions.

These "teams with a double bottom" might approach management, presenting ultimatums like, "We won't quit, but we demand the head's dismissal." And sometimes, they have a point. In such cases, any attempt to usurp power shoul be put down. Power should be granted only to those willing to defend it under any circumstances.

To build and maintain a healthy, cooperative team environment, managers should foster trust, open communication, and mutual respect among team members. Encouraging collaboration and empowering employees to contribute ideas can also help prevent power struggles and "double-bottom" situations from arising in the first place.

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