Dealing with the Office Saboteur

How to Deal with the Office Saboteur

I have never understood why some co-workers feel compelled to gain the upper-hand by acting like a saboteur. Is it insecurity? Possibly jealousy? Or maybe they’ve been facing challenges at home and need to take it out on someone at work.

I’m not talking about The Arrogant Bore who tries to take over your meeting or The Know-It-All who is all too happy to tell you what to do because they of course know best. I’m talking about the person who creates real havoc in your work life. I’ve come across many types of saboteurs, and I’ve grouped them into the following titles:

  • The Sniper
  • The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter
  • The Smiling Assassin

Before I talk about our 3 featured villains, I want to stress 2 very important concepts:

  1. Most people do not come to work each day with a mission to sabotage your project. So, before you act, make sure that you’re reading the situation correctly.
  2. Most important, do not take things personally. I repeat, do not take things personally. Bad behavior at work is the result of many different factors.

Always address the behavior in a professional and objective manner, citing facts to back up your observations.

Now, on to our bad guys.

The Sniper

This saboteur throws you a curve ball or directly opposes you (out of the blue) at a meeting. The Sniper seems to like striking in public, where they can do the most damage.

In my experience, The Sniper is often motivated by the need to have some control over what is going on or what is being discussed. This saboteur is best diffused by including him in pre-meeting discussions. I ran into one of these guys during a consulting job for the government, where I was a project manager.

At a major status briefing, when I came to a statement concerning his area, he sabotaged my briefing by saying the facts I reported were wrong. I didn’t say anything negative about his area, but he found it necessary to degrade me in the meeting anyway.

The next week, before the status meeting, I met with him and explained what I was going to report. I asked him if my report on his area met with his approval. I also made a point of asking him if I could count on his support at the meeting. He agreed, and I never had further trouble with him.

All he wanted was to be recognized and offered some deference. After I started looping him in prior to meetings, he turned into one of my most effective supporters.

The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter

This saboteur can create quite a bit of havoc when she has a beef with you. The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter comes to you in confidence and tells you something negative that another person said about you.

I’ve found the most effective way of dealing with this behavior is not to act on the information you receive. I worked with a woman several years ago, when I was managing a team of 125 analysts. One day, my co-worker approached me and told me that someone complained to her about one of my team members.

I decided I wasn’t going to play this game. I told my co-worker that if someone has an issue with a member of my team, then that person must come to me and discuss it themselves. I do not engage in watercooler talk and react to hearsay.

After this incident, I never had this sort of problem again, and people started coming directly to me with issues.

The Smiling Assassin

This saboteur can be one of the toughest to deal with, because on the surface, this person is nice to you and in agreement with you. Then, when you least expect it, The Smiling Assassin undermines you with your co–workers when you’re not around.

I have found a couple of ways to deal with this threat without resorting to an HR intervention:

  • Direct confrontation
  • Enlist co-worker help
  • Cultivate your network

Confronting The Smiling Assassin requires cool professionalism on your part. Approach him and tell him that what you heard he said. Give him a chance to explain or discuss the problem directly. Stay calm. Don’t get emotional. Listen objectively. If there some truth to the criticism, own it and work to correct it. If there is no truth, you have effectively shut this back-corner talk down by bringing it out in the open.

Enlisting co-worker help is a less confrontational strategy. Hopefully, you have co-workers that you are comfortable approaching for help. Ask them to shut down the conversation or come to your defense any time The Smiling Assassin speaks ill of you. This shows that negativity falls on deaf ears, and that soon stops the behavior.

Cultivating your network undermines The Smiling Assassin. I faced a situation many years ago where I was in line for a promotion. I found out after the selection meeting that a particular VP who didn’t like me vetoed the promotion. I confronted my Smiling Assassin and asked what I could do to improve his opinion before the next promotional cycle. He hemmed and hawed, and I figured out that there was little chance that he would change his mind.

I made a special effort to engage the Senior VP of that group and to worked to impress him. After the next promotion meeting, my network told me that the Smiling Assassin again tried to derail my promotion. But now, I had the Senior VP on my side and his vote overruled the other. I got the promotion. Afterwards, I avoided The Smiling Assassin as much as I could for the rest of my career at that company.

Closing Thoughts

Many times, workplace challenges are self-inflicted. Learn to honestly assess your own behavior before you blame others’ bad behavior on your negative outcomes. But, if you’ve done your soul-searching and you still think the problem is not yours, don’t become a victim and have faith in your power.

Always remember to stay professional, don’t waste energy taking things personally and try not to go over to the dark side yourself.

If you’ve run into a different type of Saboteur that you’d like to discuss, leave a comment and let’s see if we can add some more coping mechanisms to this post.


Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove

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Business Must Become Agile or Be Left Behind

How 7 Agile Concepts Make Better Business Practices

Every time I read an article that declares “Agile is Dead” I roll my eyes. The reality could not be further from the truth. In this ever-changing business climate your company will need the ability to move forward with limited information and pivot quickly to survive into the next decade.

The concepts in agile, particularly scrum, have relevance far beyond the Engineering and IT departments. In this post, I’m going to briefly cover 7 scrum concepts and how those concepts can be modified to run your business with agility:

  1. Organize Effective Teams
  2. Rethink Business Planning
  3. Write Better Business Requirements
  4. Execute Business Plans in Shorter Business Cycles
  5. Practice Continuous Improvement
  6. Measure Velocity
  7. Practice Transparent Status Reporting

1. Organize Effective Teams

The Engineering and IT departments have known for years that they can no longer develop software applications in isolated silos. Both traditional and agile development teams have members from multiple technical disciplines, such as programming, business analysis, data analysis, quality assurance, security and architecture. They understand the importance of engaging the right mix of technical talent to design, develop and test an application.

Why has this common practice remained isolated to the technical side of the business? Why do Finance and Accounting, Sales and Marketing, Product Management, Human Resources and all the other myriad of departments continue to work in silos?

Every year, businesses plan to achieve specific corporate objectives, then each department develops its own set of strategic plans to achieve those objectives. What if those departmental strategic plans conflict with each other or create duplicate expenses?

If the execution of strategic plans is vital to achieving corporate objectives, then businesses should organize blended teams with the skill sets required to achieve them. Cross-functional teams increase creativity and synergy. Why would any business want to continue working in silos? Those businesses who get this concept can become leaders in their industry.

2. Rethink Business Planning

High-level strategic plans cover the fiscal year, with key milestones and metrics measured either monthly or quarterly. Success metrics are numeric. Numbers can be manipulated. It happens all the time.

Agile changes the focus from numbers to delivering value to the customer. Isn’t the customer our main focus anyway? If companies organize around strategic plans and those strategic plans provide value to the customer at lower cost, the tactical plans could break down each strategic objective into concrete deliverables that provide added customer value throughout the fiscal year. Meeting deliverable timelines should be the true measure of success.

We could take the agile concept of Epics, which are high-level use cases, and apply them to business strategy. For example, if a business has the strategic objective to attract a new target market, the team could break down the objective into discrete business deliverables: new avatar of the ideal customer, new content that speaks to that customer, new variation of the product that attracts the target market, new marketing campaigns, new sales personnel, new targets for increased sales.

After all the strategic Epics have been defined in terms of business deliverables, all those deliverables could be organized into a strategic plan for delivery at specific milestones, in much the same way application and product development teams plan for releases.

3. Write Better Business Requirements

Every strategic business deliverable is probably made up of several small deliverables that must be completed by members of the cross-functional team. If business borrowed from the agile concept of user stories, each small deliverable could be defined in terms of business requirements (what needs to be accomplished) and acceptance criteria (how we know we did it right).

If we look at one of the deliverables above, new content that speaks to the customer, we probably need to write multiple types of content, such as content for the corporate website, social media and print advertising. Requirements for each content type should be documented in the form of a story that includes acceptance criteria with specific language that speaks to the avatar of the customer.

Do you have to know the detailed requirements and write stories for each type of content at the beginning of the fiscal year? No. But you do have to identify the high-level Epics, break the Epics down into business deliverables and set milestone dates for each deliverable. You should have some idea how long each deliverable takes, so stories are written and approved with enough advanced notice to give the team time to complete them.

4. Execute Business Plans in Shorter Business Cycles

Just like with agile scrum, the sooner you deliver business value and get it in front of the customer, the better chance you have to pivot if you’ve made an incorrect implementation choice. Instead of quarterly reviews, if businesses could practice monthly reviews as part of their month-end close, then the teams could report status more frequently and small problems could be addressed before they become big problems and the team misses a strategic milestone. If the team misses an objective, then the business does not achieve its corporate goals.

Evaluating the results of concrete business deliverables adds transparency to the status of team plans and strategies to achieve corporate objectives. If a strategy is not working, pivot and try something else. Write new stories for success. If a team needs help, reorganize and regroup.

5. Practice Continuous Improvement

The scrum retrospective is one of the most powerful concepts that should be adopted by all business teams. Conducted at the end of every monthly business cycle, retrospectives provide the team with an opportunity to review what when well and identify areas for improvement. The team reviews each problem area, brainstorms ideas and votes to adopt the best process changes.

Make small business process changes, before small issues become big impediments. Teams that are empowered to make their own choices about how they work together, work better together.

6. Measure Velocity

What is velocity? It’s a measure of how many deliverables the team can deliver in a business cycle.

This means that business stories must be groomed and sized, just like any other agile scrum story. Before bringing a story in for work at the start of a business cycle, the team should review it for completeness and assign it a relative size.

Simple tee shirt sizing works great. The key is to stop thinking in terms of hours to completion and start thinking in relative sizes like Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large.  If a story is Extra Large, try to break it down into smaller deliverables. Finally, assign story points to each size. A Small could be 1 story point, a Medium could be 3 story points, a Large could be 5 story points and an Extra Large could be 8 story points.

The idea is to plan for and bring in the right amount of work in each business cycle. After about 5 months, if team size remains constant, velocity should be a good predictor of how many deliverables the team can produce each month and whether or not the team has the capacity to achieve its objectives.

7. Practice Transparent Status Reporting

When you know the team’s velocity, you can size each business deliverable and roll that up into an Epic size. Status reporting against corporate objectives becomes more transparent.

If you know the total story point size of an Epic, then you can compare that to the total number of story points completed. The percent complete at the end of a business cycle gives upper management a concrete indication whether or not the team is on track to achieve its corporate objectives. Those numbers are not easily manipulated.

Wow! You can see how agile concepts apply to all aspects of business, especially corporate strategic planning.

Want personalized instruction?
Then come to our next GSD Scrum Training or call us for a consultation.


Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500


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