Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

The sneak, the subversive, the shirk and the self-promoter

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The presence of a bad apple in a team can have a significant negative effect on collective performance and morale. Unfortunately, many managers fail to do anything about these folks until it is too late. Often this happens because they fail to foresee the rot that can be wrought by these individuals. In this post I focus on four types of “rotten apples” I’ve come across. Coincidentally, these characters are best characterised by nouns that begin with the letter S.  Now, S also happens to be the symbol for entropy which in social terms is defined as, “a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration.” This is apt, as these folks can contribute to and even accelerate the decline of a team. So here they are, the sneak, the subversive, the shirk and the self-promoter1

  • The sneak: This is the guy who carries tales of your alleged wrong-doing to levels above. He’s dangerous because he has the confidence of a senior manager, whom he regularly regales with stories of your incompetence. His version of events – which may or may not have any relation to the truth – is designed to make you, the manager, look as bad as possible. Unfortunately, because of his connections, one has to be careful when tackling the sneak.
  • The subversive: Closely related to the sneak, the subversive is the revolutionary who foments turmoil within the team. He does this by spreading stories of an unsettling kind. These are crafted for shock value – for instance, one could be built around a rumour that the company is about to indulge in a bout of downsizing (and the project team are candidates) or that project funding is about to be cut. These folks tend to tone down their activities once they’re aware that their penchant for stirring things up is known. So the best way to handle a subversive is to confront him.
  • The shirk: This fellow is the teflon-man as far as work is concerned. He is seemingly able to avoid any tasks that require him to work at his full capacity. Yet, even though he is under-worked, he’s always late in completing his tasks. He manages to get away with it by palming off the responsibility for the delay on to an unsuspecting team member – “I couldn’t finish because Jake didn’t give me X in time” (where X is just any old Xcuse) or even the odd force majeure. So one’s stuck with the shirk because it’s never his fault. The best way to handle the shirk is to give him work and monitor progress closely. This is one situation where  micromanagement (as bad as it is) may actually be necessary.
  • The self-promoter: This gent is always in the background when work is doled out, but right at the front to claim credit- more so when senior management’s around. He thrives on accepting kudos for work that someone else did. In the unlikely event that he does something significant, you can be sure that the entire organisation will hear about it for the next few years. The strange thing is that this tactic quite often works. Through relentless self-promotion, the self-promoter rises through the corporate hierarchy much faster than his quieter colleagues. The self-promoter is best handled by giving him only as much attention as is his due – which isn’t very much at all.

Managing teams implies managing people. However, most folks don’t really need to be managed because they’re competent at what they do, and go about doing their jobs in a generally diligent manner. The characters I’ve listed above are exceptions: watch out for them, manage them.  You ignore them at your own peril.


1 Although the post refers to these folks using masculine nouns and pronouns, needless to say they can be of either gender.

Written by K

September 23, 2008 at 8:07 pm

One Response

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  1. […] a comment » In a recent post, I wrote: “…most folks don’t really need to be managed because they’re competent at […]


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