Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Questionable Corporate Phrases #1: "You're not a team player."

For all who work in Corporate America, there comes a day when we're in a critical meeting, and someone very powerful points to us and uses this phrase:

You're not a team player.

While it is never wise to question the motives of others, it is safe (and fair) to consider the impact of the phrase, since it may be one of the most manipulative strings of words in the English language.  Here are some of the implications.

The phrase "You're not being a team player" implies:

You're obviously not willing to help us all succeed.
You're obviously in this for your own gain.
You're not thinking of the bigger picture.
You're not interested in our success.

It is a crushing phrase that immediately puts us on the defensive. As soon as that happens, we're on the ropes, and with a flushed face of embarrassment, we begin explaining that we are indeed willing to help, willing to be part of something, willing to see the team succeed.   
Yet at the back of our minds we know we don't have the resources, span of control, time, funding and extra hands to complete the task we've been challenged with.  

Those who use the phrase know exactly what they're doing.  They are putting people into the uncomfortable place of having to commit to something out of sheer guilt and fear of a loss of reputation.  In some cases, I believe it borders on extortion.  

If you've been a target of this questionable phrase, consider whether this is a consistent method of the person's managerial tactics.  If so, others know, because they've experienced the same tactic.  Be diplomatic but direct.  "My track record demonstrates a consistently high level of support for this organization, and we'll do what needs to be done.  But let me offer that this project stands in the way of several other major corporate initiatives.   Just so I'm clear, what's the priority?" 

If you've used this questionable phrase, rethink your approachThere are far better ways to gain team member collaboration without resorting to manipulative pressure.  Only weak leaders turn to this type of tactic.  Over the long run, your reputation will precede you and people will come to expect this sort of behavior. This phrase is sophomoric at best.

Embarrassing team members into cooperation may work in the short term, but over the long haul, you'll build resentment and lose key people. 

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