4 Things To Say To Sabotage Your Newest Teammate

sabotage 1The stress of starting a new job in a career field can often be a critical factor in making a decision to stay, either in the field, or with the chosen employer. There are many components to this stress, of which some are obvious (like doing the work itself) and some are less so (like the X factor of the work atmosphere or co-workers). It is not unusual for new people to hear any number of things during that first year that might be a reason to reflect on whether they made a good decision in joining this particular team.  The dynamic of being “new”, especially in leadership-centric, dynamic organizations with higher degrees of action and responsibility is a whole lot of pressure to get good, really fast, and keep up your end of the load. The more critical the mission set, the more ruthless the organization may be in weeding out those who chose poorly.

Putting aside the question of competency for the moment, let’s assume that this particular base is covered. What then might be some of the challenges that a new person might have?  Imagine for a the sake of discussion, the point of view of the new hotshot, fresh to the team, in interacting with their teammates. The overt and covert communication from the team to the newb is a dynamic that leaders often count on to pass critical elements of the culture from a source other than the chain of command. The expectation is that this “pass down” is to the good, or beneficial.  However, in talking to enough new people in my career, and of course, being one myself at various points in time, this culture transfer meme’ cuts both ways. Just from observation alone, The Jersey is chock full of examples in which this didn’t work out as well as was hoped.

Therefore, in looking over the many varied ways a team can sabotage the newest member, The Jersey came up with some of the most likely things that a new employee might hear during those early days, along with translation.  In no particular order:

  1. Sabotage 2It’s always been that way – Translation: We have an established way of doing things that you need to follow, regardless of whether they are in the manual. There is no hope or reason for trying to change it, fix it, or bring it to anyone’s attention. It was that way when I started and I had to put up with it so you do to.  To this, The Jersey says, bull. It hasn’t always been that way for starters. And, if that is the answer to any question, that should be the rule you question first and loudest.  Things that have “always” been that way tend to favor the people who have been there the longest. They support paradigms of execution that although are no longer effective in today’s world, represent power in the hands of those who know how to use them.  It’s like being the best Dictaphone or fax user in the office. Great skill set, T-Rex…hope you can grow some fur when the temps drop below 32.
  2. Sabotage 3That’s not my/your problem/job/lane/issue – Translation: I have been getting by for years with successfully avoiding committing any energy to X by defining my role and sticking to it. Any energy devoted to X is waste as far as I am concerned and I could care less if anyone else is successful.  Doing X doesn’t advance my own ball any farther down the field so screw it. To this, The Jersey notes that one of the most popular things to do to put down new people is belittle their willingness to volunteer or give others a hand on something that has zero potential visible return on investment (ROI). A subset of this cultural putdown is to highlight the futility of giving anything beyond what is specifically required to avoid being fired. New people instinctively know that ROI is a critical concept and are willing to employ it precisely because they lack the “knowledge” that it’s not worth the effort.
  3. sabotage 4You need to wait your turn – Translation: Success in this place is primarily based on survival. Nothing you do will overcome your deficiency in seniority which is math, and thus can’t be argued with.  And, should you have the temerity to suggest that perhaps seniority is not the only criteria that should be considered when selecting key roles on the team, you are a disrespectful Millennial who hasn’t paid your dues. To this, The Jersey says yes and no. The older, more tenured colleagues are a critical source of information, guidance and mentorship.  However, this post is not dedicated to those who fit that description.  And, there are obviously circumstances where specific criteria have been laid down in advance for certain positions.  This isn’t about that either. This particular issue is about those colleagues who believe that the newest should not speak unless spoken to, and not aspire to anything that might cause a colleague to miss out on whatever they believe is “their due”. In this case, The Jersey says bull, again. A new employee’s value is as much in what they represent as it is in what they do.  Getting competent, and soon, as their first priority, was covered in a previous post about career progression. However, make no mistake. They ARE the future of the team, if they choose to be so. And nowhere is it written as to how many work days have to pass before they can contribute.
  4. sabotage 5Don’t tell anyone but….Insert Gossip Here – Translation: There is a narrative to how and why things happen here and I want for you to accept MY narrative, which includes gossip, hearsay, rumor, and other assorted crap that feeds any and all stereotypes, perceptions, and grievances that support MY world view. To this, The Jersey notes that gossip, in its primal form, is one of the most common and insidious ways to undermine core values, published leadership philosophies, and team cohesion.  Beyond the specific nature, this is almost a cultural embed that if ignored by the leadership who should know better, will govern the team more than any person actually designated to do so.  This is “shadow government” at its finest. There is no defense against the slander or whisper and it works its magic of self-doubt over time, making it a silent killer. It might make the point look better to say that you can always trace gossip back to some disgruntled source, who gets up each day hopeful of finding the right opportunity to throw a wrench in the team’s gears for their own perverse pleasure. Unfortunately, as leaders we sometimes feed this narrative ourselves by gossiping about other teams or organizations.  The Jersey believes gossiping is a behavior, and a bad one.  Therefore, exhibiting that behavior regardless of the target is bad business for leaders.  It shows the team that you are OK with it, and support it as a legit way to share information. Be mindful.

So there you have it. As a leader and a teammate, bringing new people onto the team is a responsibility that can be heavy from time to time.  It forces us to face our own perceptions and focus on what we communicate as much as what we actually say. It is only human for new people to want to know the real story, or at least feel compelled to have someone “educate” them about how things are and where they are going. That can be a positive plan with a realistic outcome but it can also be a transfer of a bag of rocks that we have been carrying around for a while and want to pass off to the unsuspecting freshman.Sabotage 6

As the new guy, take heart. Consider carefully attempts to “get the real story” because such an effort is a roll of the dice. Imagine doing that and finding out you got the wrong info. “Sorry about that, dude. Hope you didn’t base your whole career plan on that because I may have messed up a few facts.” The best advice The Jersey has for the new teammate navigating through the organization is to understand and embrace the principles of good leadership early, regardless of your assignment. Stand your ground, make your own decisions, do your homework, seek competing or contrary viewpoints, and reasonably consider all options when making choices. Above all else, your enthusiasm and optimism is the what brought you to the dance.  Keep it.


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