Playing the Commitment Card

In response to my post on shared commitment, Effern posted this comment: …”leaving early when everyone was made to work OT is a fantastic way to bring down team morale.”

Effern‘s comment got me thinking. I suspect that the low morale isn’t simply the result of one person leaving early, but stems from something more complicated. I’ve been thinking about this all week, and I’m having a hard time putting this all in words. I’ll give it a start anyway:

Long ago and far away, I worked on a project that was falling behind. When the manager announced we’d be working overtime, everyone acquiesced. Everyone, that is, but Bob, one of the old hands (he was probably 40, which seemed ancient at the time).

As we toiled long into the evening and came in on weekends, we did grumble about Bob.

We worked crazy hours, got stressed out, tired, burned out, and ill. We missed out on family and social activities. We speculated that Bob just didn’t care, and complained that it wasn’t fair.

Nothing bad happened to Bob because he didn’t work overtime. He wasn’t fired or demoted. He also wasn’t stressed and tired. He was just Bob as he’d always been, even if the rest of the team turned a cool shoulder. He did his work conscientiously, was pleasant to his co-workers, and left in time to catch his bus at 5:11 PM.

So. Sometimes when I’m driving, I don’t notice that the windshield is dirty until I drive into the sun. The sun isn’t making the windshield dirty, it’s just creating the conditions where I can see the dirt.

We each chose, and Bob chose differently. Bob illuminated a different possibility. Resenting Bob made as much sense as resenting the sun causing a dirty windshield …We got mad at Bob, but I suspect we were really mad at ourselves for making a bad bargain.

Not logical, but very human.

So what can we learn from this cautionary tale?

  • Focus on “commitment” is a poor proxy for focus on results.
  • You can’t tell whether someone from external behavior how “committed” someone is.
  • When results aren’t visible, it’s easy to play the commitment card.
  • Each person must decide for her/himself how much is too much, how much time they will spend at work and the sacrifices they will make.
  • When we give more than feels right to us, we’re placating…essentially saying “What I need/feel/think doesn’t matter.”
  • Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re placating, perhaps because of ingrained habits or attitudes towards authority.
  • Placating leads to giving too much. When people give too much, they often feel resentment… but the resentment usually isn’t focused where the responsibility lies.

    If you notice you are feeling resentment towards someone on your team because they are not “committed,” look inside. What does the situation reveal about your own choices and assumptions?

    Thanks for sparking this reflection, Effern. 🙂