The seven kinds of teamicide we described in the 1987 edition
of Peopleware seemed to stretch from the alpha to the omega of the subject.
But there are two important kinds of teamicide that we missed. Like the original
seven, these two additions are practiced widely in our field. One of them has
become so ubiquitous that a small growth industry has sprung up to support it.
. . .
Those Damn Posters and Plaques
Pick up the airline
magazine or on-board shoppers' catalog on your next flight and flip through the
full-page advertisements. Somewhere in there you will come upon a colorful selection
of inspirational posters and framed messages for display on corporate walls (lest
someone use up the wall space with work products). Don't just glance at them,
but force yourself to read through them all, turning over their texts in your
mind and savoring their syrupy prose. If you're not angry by the time you're done,
you may have been serving under lousy managers for much too much of your career.
forms of teamicide do their damage by effectively demeaning the work, or demeaning
the people who do it. Teams are catalyzed by a common sense that the work is important
and that doing it well is worthwhile. The word well in this last sentence is essential:
The team assigns itself the task of setting and upholding a standard of prideful
workmanship. All team members understand that the quality of the work is important
to the organization, but the team adopts a still higher standard to distinguish
itself. Without this distinguishing factor, the group is just a group, never a
Into this complicated mix, now imagine dropping a $150 framed
poster to advise people that ''Quality Is Job One.'' Oh. Gee, we never would have
thought that. No sir, we sort of assumeduntil this wonderful poster came
alongthat Quality was Job Twenty-Nine, or maybe Eleventy-Seven, or maybe
even lower than that on the corporate value scale, maybe someplace after reducing
ear wax or sorting the trash. But now we know. Thanks.
accessories, as they are called (including slogan coffee mugs, plaques, pins,
key chains, and awards), are a triumph of form over substance. They seem to extol
the importance of Quality, Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork, Loyalty, and a host
of other organizational virtues. But they do so in such simplistic terms as to
send an entirely different message: Management here believes that these virtues
can be improved with posters rather than by hard work and managerial talent. Everyone
quickly understands that the presence of the posters is a sure sign of the absence
of hard work and talent.
That important matters like these should be the
subject of motivational posters is already an insult. But the implementation makes
it even worse. Consider one example marketed by a company: It shows a soft-focus
image of sweating oarsmen, rowing in perfect unison through the misty morning.
Underneath it reads, in part:
. . . The Fuel
That Allows Common People To Attain Uncommon Results
people'' they're talking about here are you and your workmates. Common people.
(Don't take it too hard.) At least they're consistent in attitude: The same company's
Leadership poster tells us that ''the speed of the leader determines the rate
of the pack.'' The pack. Yep, that's you again.
are phony enough to make most people's skin crawl. They do harm in healthy organizations.
The only place where they do no harm is where they are ignoredas in companies
where the harm was done long, long ago and people have ceased to register any
The Side Effects of Overtime
of the original edition of Peopleware may already have picked up a certain
bias against the use of overtime. It has been our experience that the positive
potential of working extra hours is far exaggerated, and that its negative impact
is almost never considered. That negative impact can be substantial: error, burnout,
accelerated turnover, and compensatory ''undertime.'' In this section, we examine
yet another negative effect of overtime: its teamicidal repercussions on otherwise
healthy work groups.
Imagine a project with a well-jelled team. You and
your colleagues are producing good work at a rate that is frankly astonishing,
even to you and your boss. You all understand this to be the beneficial effect
of team jell, that the whole of your team production capacity is greater than
the sum of your individual productivities. But it's still not enough. The powers
that be have promised the product for June, and it's just not going to get done
at the current rate.
Sounds like a case for a little overtime, right? You
move the team into high gear, add a few hours to the workweek (still at the same
high production rate), maybe work a few Saturdays. There is only one problem:
One of your teammates-let's call him Allen-just doesn't have the flexibility that
the rest of you enjoy. He is a widower and thus the primary care-giver for his
little boy. Allen has to show up at the day-care facility at 5:15 each afternoon
to pick the child up. As you might imagine, his Saturdays and Sundays, the only
real quality time with his son, are inviolable.
Hey, that's okay, you think,
we'll cover for Allen. We all understand. And you all do . . . in the beginning.
few months later, however, the rest of you are starting to show the strain. All
your Saturdays have been gobbled up, as have most of your Sundays. You've been
working sixty-plus-hour weeks for longer than you thought possible, and your spouses
and kids are grumbling. Your laundry is piling up, your bills are unpaid, your
vacation plans have been scrapped. Allen, through all this, is still working a
forty-hour week. Finally, somebody says what you are all thinking: ''I'm getting
pretty sick of carrying Allen.''
What's happened here? A team that was positively
humming with the good effects of jell has been pried apart by an overtime policy
that could not be applied uniformly to the team members. But the members of good
teams are never uniform in any respect, certainly not in their abilities to ''borrow''
time from their personal lives. In almost any team of four or five or six people,
there are bound to be a few who can't be expected to put in the kind of overtime
that might fit pretty well into some of the others' lives. All that can be shrugged
off as unimportant if the overtime is only a matter of a few long evenings and
maybe one extra weekend day. But if the overtime drags on over months and starts
to exact a real toll on even the most willing team members, there is bound to
be damage to team cohesion. The people who aren't sharing the pain will become,
little by little, estranged from the others. And the team magic will be gone.
Extended overtime is a productivity-reduction technique, anyway.
The extra hours are almost always more than offset by the negative side effects.
This is true even if you don't consider the disruption of the team. When you take
into account the way that the team members' differing abilities to work overtime
tends to destroy teams, the case against it becomes persuasive.
have at least a suspicion that overtime doesn't help, that projects that work
a lot of overtime are not much of a credit to their managers' skills and talents.
But they end up allowing or encouraging overtime, anyway. Why is this? Jerry Weinberg
has an answer of sorts: He suggests that we don't work overtime so much as a way
to get the work done on time as a way to shield ourselves from blame when the
work inevitably doesn't get done on time.