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Protecting the Workgroup

One of the most interesting findings of the Contagious Success research is that in high-performing groups, the leader “protects” the group from the larger company, whether lobbying for more resources or shielding the group from company interference. Sometimes this means bending company “rules” when they are getting in the way of performance. But good leaders use “intelligent disobedience” – knowing which rules they can break and which they can’t.

One plant manager I spoke with tried for two years to get her company to change its compensation plan to reward the workers in her plant more fairly. When nothing happened, she informed executives in her monthly report as well as in an email that unless she was instructed otherwise, she was going to change the policy. She counted on the fact that no one would pay close attention, and she was right: she got no response. In this case, the manager protected the financial interest of her workgroup at some risk to herself.

Company interference often takes the form of incongruity between words and actions. When the leader is forced to protect the group from these inconsistencies, it can take a high toll. People develop an “us versus them” mentality. They become a secret society, unwilling to share their successful strategies. The company’s performance suffers.

When I speak to groups around the world about this phenomenon, I always see nods of recognition in the audience. Tell me your stories – How does your company get in the way? How do your leaders protect the group?

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