When it comes to not getting things done at the office, half of us like to play the blame game.
In its 2014 Productivity Impact Study, task management platform provider Taskworld found that 50% of the workforce attributes a decline in their performance to actions by their coworkers, and 48% say they’re frustrated by coworkers who don’t meet deadlines.
“Blaming colleagues–the people you’re competing with for promotions and raises–is a rather self-serving retort when asked what constrains your productivity,” says Paul Baard, a professor at the Schools of Business at Fordham University. “On the playing field, competition can bring out the best in athletes; in workplace it often brings out the worst.”
A study by the American Management Association (AMA) found that managers spend at least 24% of their day managing conflict, and Baard believes the number is higher: “It’s not fistfights so much as the petty stuff, such as someone saying, ‘I’ll be darned if I am going to return her email promptly, she made me wait a week before returning my call!’” he says. “A lot of time and energy gets wasted. Perhaps some education in emotional maturation, combined with team-building work would help.”
Baard says managers can learn a thing or two about handling employees from watching Sunday-afternoon football, especially postgame interviews. “Coaches often use the word ‘we’; they don’t blame individual players,” he says. “When things go wrong, a good coach is going down with the team. If the team wins, everybody celebrates.”
Instead of spending time resolving rifts between coworkers, Baard says managers should work on establishing true teamwork, which includes an atmosphere of camaraderie. Treat everyone–including yourself–as a member of the team. And reward true teamwork by measuring things like cooperation, collaboration, and giving prompt responses to coworkers.
To learn which members are team players and to foster team-building traits, Baard suggests doing a 360-degree evaluation of employees, asking employees to weigh in on coworkers’ strengths and weaknesses.
“Ask questions, such as, ‘How does this person do her job? Can you count on her to be there for you, getting your questions answered quickly?’” suggests Baard. “Then assess people on whether they’re cooperative and timely. In business, what gets measured gets done.”
Managers also have to look at the elements within an office that cause conflict. The Taskworld survey found that missed deadlines were detrimental to office productivity, requiring additional follow-up and unnecessary emails. Missed deadlines resulted in an average project delay of one to three days, and 75% of respondents found themselves waiting on coworkers more than occasionally to complete a work-related task.
“Deadlines put pressure on people, but they also remind people they don’t have much control,” says Baard. “People have a need for autonomy, not permissiveness. This means managers should give them an influence and a say on how work gets done.”
When setting deadlines, explain why, says Baard. “For example, if the deadline is October 1st, let employees know that the date was set because senior management needs to report to the board of directors a few days later,” he says. “Most managers tell employees to do it because they said so.”
Finally, managers should understand that handing out promotions can cause animosity in teams. “In Corporate America, the norm is that one person in each department gets to be a vice president or another senior title,” says Baard. “If you’re the manager and you’ve got one up-and-coming star and another person who has been here the longest, you want to keep both happy and not cause friction.”
Baard suggests going to human resources and making a case for two promotions: “It’s easy for a manager to say their hands are tied, but that doesn’t build up a sense of team,” he says. “Try to minimize where the system is pitting people against each other. Even if you’re not successful, your employees will appreciate your effort and acknowledgement that they’re both deserving.”