Are you fed up with your team coming up with innovative ideas, taking responsibility and putting in great performances? Are you pining for those exciting days of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants chaos and fire-fighting? Here’s how to break your team in 12 easy steps.
There are no quick fixes or silver bullets here – but these are simple to implement and guaranteed to work.
1: Stand up for everything good.
Check out any values committed to by any business and you won’t find a single one you could say with certainty is negative. They’re all to some degree admirable, so you’re not going to have to pretend to be a bad person to do this one.
To lay the foundations for this, you’ll need to spend some time agreeing with any and all of these values publicly.
The uninitiated might fear this will make them seem to be (and maybe even ‘actually’ be) a good person.
But as we know, if you try to stand for everything, you stand for nothing. It’s impossible to be all things to all people and soon enough your day-to-day actions will contradict a value you claimed to believe in last week. You don’t need to keep track of this to engineer opportunities – just go about your daily business and the contradictions will soon appear.
Equally, when you realise with surprise that you’ve done this, don’t feel the need to make a big deal of it and point it out to your team – they will pick up on it eventually, even if it doesn’t look like they’ve noticed at the time.
2: Treat everyone the same.
Yep, you read that correctly.
Whilst this would be great advice in terms of morals and ethics, when it comes to the style and substance of communication it is kryptonite.
Some people love being given consistently challenging targets whilst others would get dispirited. The approach of delivering a ‘praise / poo / praise sandwich’ is great for some people but others find it insincere and like their feedback ‘straight between the eyes’. For every person who is looking for extra responsibility, you’ll find some who just want to be left alone.
You get the idea.
By treating everyone as if they are the same, you will click with 25% of people but you’ll be grinding the gears of 25%.
And here’s the fabulous kicker. People change depending on their personal circumstances so if you stick at it you will end up grinding the gears of absolutely everyone.
3: Indulge in a bit of gentle office banter.
This is a slow burner and initially you might fear this is making you more popular, but it will pay dividends. Soon enough banter will subtly morph into gossip.
To begin with it’ll seem like everyone is enjoying it and actively joining in – but don’t panic. Eventually they’ll start to wonder what you’re saying about them behind their backs and the rot will begin to creep in.
4: Be a Superhero.
At the first sign of any problem let alone crisis, just leap in and fix it. You can even cover your tracks by congratulating everyone on a great team effort afterwards without being concerned about the impact – people will soon twig that you’re the Superhero and nothing works without you.
Don’t panic if initially this seems to put you on a pedestal in the eyes of your team.
Your team will soon enough get the real message: ‘I’m Superman – you are mere mortals who are a bit useless without me’.
In time your team will labour under that wonderfully intoxicating blend of resenting being dependant on you and feeling inadequate by comparison.
5: Wear your heart on your sleeve.
Don’t be alarmed. I know at first sight this may seem counter-intuitive and in some circles ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ would be considered meritorious (you may even get invited onto Meghan’s podcast) but it will work wonders if you adopt it unchecked.
When you arrive at work feeling stressed and annoyed, just let it show. This only works at its best if it catches people off guard so mix it up with being in an irrepressibly good mood and it will get them wondering if their job is safe and soon they’ll avoid doing anything (including trying to help) that might rock your boat.
Some of you might be concerned this will lead to an upsurge in activity – and initially it might. But over time your poor performers will fret and gossip (just like you taught ‘em) and your high performers will get a job elsewhere which lowers performance all on its own.
6 Embrace the hidden power of meetings.
Poor communication is essential if you want to reduce team performance – but how do you go about it?
Now, depending on which book you’ve read or podcast listened to, you might have a strong opinion that meetings are a complete waste of time / the answer to everything. (As ever, it’s a bit more nuanced than that: bad meetings are bad, great meetings are great).
But you don’t need to be unsubtle and just organise lots of bad meetings – or even try to knock people off kilter by mixing up the two.
Don’t underestimate the impact of a meeting cancelled – especially if that happens straight after a great one.
So, have meetings for a while – then stop.
Cancel meetings you’ve got scheduled (don’t feel to make an excuse – just cancel and look stressed).
It’s the inconsistency that works well here and that should happen all on its own.
7: Change up your management style.
As with meetings, every management style has its advocates.
For my money, micromanagement isn’t a bad thing per se, and sometimes it’s essential – think of a new hire or moving someone to a new role.
Equally giving people the space to figure stuff out on their own is laudable.
But, if you really want to undermine your team, switching between the two at random will work a treat.
Throw them in at the deep end, then rush in with a quick 5 mins of intensive helicoptering – then hop off to the next thing. They’ll soon be flustered – and flustered people don’t innovate or seek out responsibility.
8: Set your team free.
Don’t give your team any targets to shoot for. As in none.
Just give them their job description and maybe a bit of light training and leave it at that.
Some people will view this as playing with fire, as the team could take responsibility to innovate, work hard and get some cracking results.
This is always a risk but if you’re doing the other 11 things on the list as well, setting no expectations will lead to inertia and ultimately to your team going through the motions.
Likewise with accountability – and the thing that works best here is not as obvious as making no one accountable.
The trick is to make more than one person accountable. That could be everyone in a meeting or as few as two people.
If more than one person is accountable it’s highly unlikely to get done.
This is also a win double as you’ll have appeared to do everything right by giving clear instructions – and you then get to look hacked off when nothing’s happened, which will only help you build up your Superhero pedestal.
9: Promise the world.
This is eminently doable for any employer.
Pick a time when you’re full of beans – say straight after Xmas or after your summer holiday and allow your natural energy and enthusiasm about the future of the business wash over your team.
Next, for real impact, spend a bit of quality time finding out what your employees really want.
Have they got a big event coming up like trying to buy their first home? Do they crave more responsibility? Maybe they love to learn. They might have a great idea for improving the business and want to be heard.
Then promise them you’ll look into it and will discuss it again in X months time (6-12 months works well for this – it’s a slow burner). Then forget all about it.
10: Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
You won’t have to go overboard on this one. It doesn’t have to be as obvious or time-consuming as only giving negative feedback – the effect of that could wear off and drag you down as well.
In reality, you could gradually undermine someone with a ratio of negative to positive feedback a low as 1 in 5.
Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy: people at the foundation layer want to know they are safe. They want to know their job is secure.
So, let some bad things go – and come down hard on others. Occasionally give praise for something that appears to contradict your values: ie praising a salesperson for landing a deal with some ‘sharp practices’ the week after telling your team how important it is to act with integrity.
It’s important to do this for both positive and negative feedback. If someone’s doing well, just ignore it and if pushed mumble something about “them not thanking you every time you pay them”.
Likewise, when people do things that contradict the values on your website, just let it go. Especially if they’re a top performer.
11: Be present in their personal lives.
Let’s say it’s a Monday night – but it could be any night or any (bank) holiday – and a crisis hits your email or Whatsapp. Immediately bring it to the attention of the relevant members of your team.
For the best impact, you’ll want to play the long game again so make sure to add a note saying something about them not needing to look at this / reply until the next working day.
Don’t worry, they won’t be grateful for the extra thinking time or for relieving them of the need to reply.
They’ll just be quietly hacked off that you interrupted them and then waste several precious minutes (if not more!) of their personal time wondering if they should acknowledge the message and if so, how? Should they make some passive aggressive comment about boundaries or just ignore it?
You won’t know this resentment is building because you told them not to reply, but rest assured, it is!
12: Let your clients help too.
If you keep hold of your worst clients this will undoubtedly help undermine morale and performance over the longer term.
Even better if you periodically say things like “Well, you know what they say – the customer is always right”.
This is best delivered immediately after a client has been rude to a member of your team – ideally a junior one.
A thought on Vision and Things of Higher Purpose.
Some of you maybe be wondering why I’ve not mentioned anything about removing all reference to Visions, Missions or Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
Maybe I’m wrong here but I feel that whilst they can and do add to the performance of a ‘good’ team and help take it to ‘great’ – the absence of them doesn’t seem to yield a proportionately negative response.
What might work though is demonstrating that the real higher purpose of the business is to make you more money.
Show off a little about your latest holiday, car or boat. It will unfortunately inspire some to achieve more – but the rest will more than offset that.
There are no silver bullets in here. No one thing that will get you back to that warm, familiar feeling of chaos.
And there are no quick fixes – none of these will work overnight.
But I guarantee, if you do at least 4 or 5 of them consistently you will soon be heading in the wrong direction.
Have fun with this and let me know how you get on.
Here’s an added kicker: if you’re self employed you might think this doesn’t apply to you, but it does. Simply apply all these principals to yourself by yourself and watch the results come in – or, more correctly, go out.