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Negative Attitudes in Small Business Workplaces, But Not Between the White Lines in Sports

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of clients whose work environments had employees steeped in a culture of “throwing each other under the bus.”

In my previous professional life of professional baseball I never heard that phrase, at least not in any of the small business environments in which I worked.

But, companies with low trust work environments seem to gravitate towards me in my present business, I guess.

Recently, I began thinking again about the differences between sports teams and business teams.

In doing so I realized that no matter how bad a team is losing, or how far a team is from first place or winning a championship, players rarely throw each other under the bus while the game is being played.

Between the white lines everyone plays to win and everyone supports each other to get the job done.

  • Why isn’t it that way in business?
  • Why do employees feel a need to throw their teammates, “under the bus?”

Based on my experience of studying low trust work environments I’d say there are 3 reasons for this:

  1. Real and imagined insecurity – individuals may feel threatened by others whom they perceive as performing better or may have more education or skills. There are also some people who just have low self-confidence and self-esteem and no matter now much reassurance one is given, they don’t believe it.
  2. Lack of Clear Expectations, Roles, Responsibilities – a person is not provided clear responsibilities and accountabilities, so they feel uncertain in their role.
  3. Organization plays favorites and offers inconsistent feedback – there is a history of favoritism that many in the organization have experienced and through the informal communication networks stories get passed down and through the organization’s culture.

All three of those scenarios create uncertainty and doubt in a work environment causing individuals to feel threatened. When human beings feel threatened they go into survival mode and will do things that will move them towards protecting their territory.

Work environments where “throwing other’s under the bus” is a common theme are guaranteed to be under-performing. The focus and energy that should be applied to serving each other, serving customers and producing high quality products goes towards conniving, scheming and figuring out how to undermine teammates, or to CYA.

Additionally, when new hires come on board they are provided with minimum information necessary to contribute forcing them to always go to and/or through the veterans to get things done creating an informal information hierarchy that can be extremely inefficient, and frustrating, way to operate.

Why do these type of cultures not exist in sports? I believe its because there are three specific strategies that sports teams focus on virtually 100% of the time.

They are The 3 Strategies of Champion Organizations.

But, of course, whether a team performs at a championship caliber level, or not, the energy of all members of the team are focused on those three strategies, which include:

  • A championship vision and strategy
  • Personnel and performance management
  • Leadership and teamwork development

If you’d like to learn more about how to create a work environment that can eliminate unhealthy competition and low trust you will want to download for FREE The 3 Strategies of Champion Organizations” report here

Do you have any experience in work environments where employees regularly “threw each other under the bus?” If so, please leave a comment and let me know what your experience has been and other insights for my subscribers to learn how to turn it around.

Thanks!

’til next time, make it a great week!

skip weisman, transforming leadership and workplace communication to deliver champion level results

 

There are 15 comments. Add yours.

  1. Great article, Skip. Anyone who has been in the workforce long enough has experienced being “thrown under the bus” at some point. I attribute it to insecurity. I was once the youngest agent in the first brokerage I joined and received a lot of negative attitude from the older ladies. Thankfully, I now work for a company who appreciates every agent in the office and the atmosphere is one of family.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Lisa,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is definitely all about insecurity and feeling threatened, without a doubt. As I wrote in the post some of that stems from individual’s own internal self-worth and alot of it also stems from the organizational leaders approach to handling situations and issues in
      the work environment that create additional, unnecessary feelings of insecurity. I don’t believe they do this maliciously, it develops because of poor leadership and communication styles. Thanks, again for commenting, please come back and visit anytime.

  2. A.Rajendran

    Very true… I totally agree with you on all three counts. I myself have experienced one or more of these in some organisations in India as well as Middle-East, particularly the latter. May be this serves as some feedback for your ‘Global Satistics’.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      A.Rajendran,
      Thanks for adding your Global perspective, again to some of my writings. It is much appreciated and again reinforces the point that human nature is human nature regardless of the culture and we all face similar challenges despite of our upbringing. Certainly some cultures are much more challenging than others and I think some of the developing world cultures may be struggling with more of this than western cultures but it still exists everywhere and we need to be vigilant as leaders to check ourselves to make sure we are leading with the best of intentions and leading so that “everybody wins!”

  3. Yuvarajah

    Great and timely article, Skip.

    Last week I was one of four managers who got laid off. The sad part is it was a well crafted master stroke by the top gun. We got the short end of the stick following a “restructuring” exercise, citing massive headcount reduction across the group. None of us bought it and we have plans they don’t know.

    Now, everyone is wondering if they are next?. This does not happen in games. The game is played by a set of rules and conventions that everyone respects in spirit and honour, including the opponents who compete for the same price.

    This is not how it is played in a do eat dog workplace with a toxic culture run by a naccissist, ego-centric and self-serving hypocrite, who only sees as far as his own back. It’s more like getting thrown under a steam-roller.

    They say the fish rots form the head. I disagree that there is no malicious intent behind treatment of bad leadership. This people hould never be in a position where they can inflict unhappiness, chaos, sabotage, insult, pain and vengeance. These leaders are wolves in sheep skins, ever ready to oust anyone who does not fit into their political scheme.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Yuvarajah,
      I’m sorry to read about your situation and appreciate you sharing your comments with me here in this forum.
      I also agree with you that sometimes a leader, because of their own insecurities and lack of self-worth, do create an environment where their action can be malicious and their intent is to create “a get them before they get me” process. This is unfortunate and will eventually cause the demise of both the leader and their organization. Thank you for sharing your experience with me and please come back again and continue to add value to my discussions here.

  4. Kerry G

    Hello. Yes a great article indeed. I would like to add another couple of reasons as to why this may occur.

    1. The length of time someone has been in their role. Boredom sets in and I dont believe they are aware of it. The same routine day in and day out.

    2. Individuals personal life – those who are single. They sometimes have nothing better to do so their focus is in areas of work it shouldnt be. Boredom again.

    Not sure if these reasons make any sense to you, but on top of your reasons I believe these can also attribute to a bad work environment. Would be interested to see what others think.

  5. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

    Kerry,
    Thanks for adding value to the discussion. Yes, your points do make sense to me and I see both as a leadership problem.

    First, if someone is bored in their role because they’ve been in it for a long time, and no one in a leadership position in the company is either a) aware of it, or b) willing to address it, they deserve what they get. Leaders should be engaging their people in regular conversations about their role, value and contribution, reinforcing how an individual makes a difference and how they can continue to do so at higher levels.

    Secondly, if someone is having personal challenges and brings that stuff to work, again, that stuff must be addressed. Leaders who allow this stuff to infiltrate a work environment are allowing cancers to spread. Not to say this individual is doing something wrong, its human and we’re all human and have to deal with issues like this from time to time. But, organizational leaders that do not address these issues with their people are showing very low levels of empathy and compassion, and again, deserve what they get.

    I’ve written about this before, most negative attitudes, poor morale and low motivation in workplaces is NOT the employees fault, it is managements fault for how they make people feel, how they address issues and how long they tolerate truly negative personalities that choose not to change.

    What does everyone else think?

    Again, Kerry, thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation, please come back and comment again.

  6. Skip,

    While I agree with all the points you and others have raised, I must add something that I believe is key: The organization and its leadership either openly or tacitly SUPPORT an environment of distrust, usually while spouting the rhetoric of “Team, Team, Team.” If a senior manager accepts it when I shift responsibility for a challenge to someone else, including passing the buck to someone that reports to me, if my peer is welcomed when she goes in for the “let me just update you on a few things you should know” conversation, then the leadership is sending a strong message, and, unfortunately, it will be heard.

  7. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

    Iain,
    Great point. It always comes back to the leadership of the organization/team and how they react/respond (or not) to what’s going on, doesn’t it. Thanks for adding that point and contributing here.

    A while back I did write another post that makes a similar point, you and others may want to check it out, it’s called The Myth of Teamwork: How Leaders Must Engage the “I” in TEAM for Success.

    Please come back and comment again when the inspiration strikes. Thanks!

  8. One big reason for the difference between business and sports teams is transparency. In most sports it is pretty obvious when a team member is “throwing someone under the bus”–in business it isn’t. One reason I am a big fan of agile development (and the application of agile principles to business) is that it creates that same sort of transparency along with building trust and “team spirit.” It’s interesting that even in companies with the culture you describe, agile teams do not exhibit the “under the bus” behaviors.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Marc,
      Thanks for stopping by and being inspired to add your comments and value to the discussion. You are right, transparency is built into the athletic culture and allows it to stay above that type of fray most of the time.
      I appreciate your thoughts and added value here, please come back again.
      Skip

  9. Yuvarajah

    Skip,

    I was in the military, where I learned that teamwork was the smallest operating unit, not individuals. Even the top guns acknowledge and live by the dictum.

    But, it’s the exact reverse in the corporate/business world. Even the academia of MBAs just can’t make the teamwork stick because the “system” of governance entrenched in capitalism gives individualism overpowering credit and rewards.

    Who give these individuals the power of abuse?. Where does the blame lie – shareholders, regulatory agencies, public, employees?.

    Has this been covered before?.

    Thanks

  10. Keti

    I think this throwing others “under the bus” is a corporate culture issue; it’s a symptom of what goes on up at the top, and the type of leadership and team-work that the leader(s) propagate. I have seen the worst manifestation of this first hand… although the reasons why the rank and file fall prey to it is purely selfish (thus the manifestation or the three points you mentioned in your article), I believe it’s the environment and the culture- which is clearly defined at the top- that determines what happens on the trench lines if you will.
    For example it would be very difficult to have a culture of team work, collaboration and camaraderie when the leader preaches that all the workers are there for is purely for the purposes of serving his wallet or any other agenda he/she may have…or that he favors certain people over others for reasons clearly not related to how competent they are in what they get a pay check for…or that the leaders themselves go about “bad-mouthing” people in their team, which to me that makes no sense since in my opinion, you as a leader are as good as who your hires are, and who works for you. Some people who think of themselves as “leaders” are nothing but dictators…all one has to do is look back at the history of the USSR for example , and all the eastern bloc nations and you will see a plethora of instances of conniving and “throwing under the bus”! Generally people are like sheep…they won’t challenge the status quo and they will quietly follow.

    • Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

      Keti,
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I certainly agree the tone for this type of culture can be set at the top of an organization. It also can stem from the team leader or manager involved solely in the unit in which they are managing. I wrote about that in this blog post that you and others may find additional value – Successful Leaders Engage “I” in TEAM to Ensure Success.

      Thanks, again, and please come back and comment, anytime.

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