Has Turf Guarding Become an Olympic Sport?
by Mary Rau-Foster
Football players do it, and get paid for it. Animals do it, and get reprimanded for it. Children do it, and get scolded for it. Employees do it, and may get promoted for it.
Turf guarding — the protection of perceived personal power, status, and responsibility — is a covert part of every workplace environment. It is usually subtle even to the employees engaged in it. It occurs on every level, from the receptionist to the CEO of an organization. It can occur as a result of confusion, conflict, and chaos. To the extent that it runs rampant in an organization, it can be very counter-productive. Many managers have expressed concern and dismay over just how widespread this activity has become.
Turf guarding is a way of creating boundaries to protect areas of personal power gained as a result of position, knowledge, and employment longevity. It is used as an attempt to maintain status, rank, and responsibility within an organization. Turf guarding is also used to protect an employee’s personal investment in an organization.
One familiar scenario that occurs everyday in the workplace looks like this: A long-term employee, who has suffered through the company’s difficult times, is faced with newer employees who were not there when the going was tough. The newer employees are energized and enthusiastic, but have little appreciation for the contributions of the older employees. New ideas may be met with disdain by the older employees who insist on doing it their way.
As humans, we find great comfort in our ability to preserve those aspects of our life that provide us security and stability. Change of any kind can be threatening and disconcerting. In fact, the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. Hiring new staff members or corporate reorganization can bring with it fears and insecurities for some employees. These employees erect a protective dome to protect the “turf” they have acquired over time and, often, with a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Current employees may also feel threatened by new hires — “What if they are smarter and perform better? How will that make me look? Will I be criticized?”
“We don’t have a problem with turf guarding in our place of business… or do we?”
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Undermining activities
- The blame game
- Non-productive and chaotic meetings
- Power brokering
- Withholding of information
Turf guarding may also occur because of fear and poor self-esteem. We want to hang on to the territory that we have so diligently built. We want to be assured that we will be able to both gain new ground and maintain that which we have already acquired.
If the internal competition becomes so great that it disrupts the workplace, it will be necessary to take steps to level the playing field. In sports, the need to function as a team to win a game is more important than showcasing the talents of individual players. The same is true in business. If management places greater emphasis on working together for the good of the organization instead of working alone for the good of the individual, the environment will be more productive and more pleasant. It should also decrease employee turnover.
Here are a few questions that may indicate turf guarding.
- Will the new employee understand the difficult circumstances under which I created this department, started this project, or obtained this assignment?
- If someone is removed from my team, how will that affect me?
Managers and executives can inadvertently contribute to the prevalence of turf guarding in the following ways:
- Failure to create a team spirit
- Reward individuals rather than team efforts
- Poor communication between management and staff — not adequately explaining the purpose and timing of major organizational changes
- Failure to involve employees in decision making that could lead to changes effecting their position
- Failure to recognize the emotional investment that many employees have in their jobs and accomplishments
- Encouraging unhealthy competition among employees
- Failure to provide adequate information, which will cause employees to create their own version of based upon suspicions or misconceptions
- Failing to respect and acknowledge the contributions of those workers who have been there for the long haul
- Failure to properly integrate new employees into the workplace
It is also possible to see the turf guarding and power plays in action as employees respond to certain events. One of the most interesting examples is when a company moves to a new building or renovates space within an existing building. All eyes are upon the allocation and location of office space. Many see this as the most visible indication of their level of power, influence, or acceptance within the organization. It appears that there is a mental measurement that determines who has the biggest, nicest, or most prestigious office location.
Some people even evaluate internal memos to determine the perceived ranking of their importance within the company. How are the memos addressed? Is there meaning assigned to how the names are listed on the memo? (Tip of the day — list names alphabetically — it will reduce the tendency to speculate.)
Two of the more common power seeking steps people take to gain power or prevent someone else from gaining power include:
- Refusal to adequately share information that is pertinent to an endeavor. The person who is perceived to have the most information is perceived to be the one with the most power. If information is parceled out in small quantities or to very select people it will foster ill will in the work place. That is not to say that all employees need to be informed of all that transpires in a business. However, information that should be shared should be done efficiently, openly and quickly.
- There may also be gossip and innuendos designed to diminish a person’s credibility, influence and effectiveness.
Some people need power because society has instilled in us that power is good and must be maintained, sometimes, at all cost. They strive to have a certain status within an organization. The corner office has status. An office with a window has status. In this age of the cubicles, even having a traditional office can mean status.
The business of turf guarding is detrimental to the extent that it requires time to focus on protecting rather than productivity. As an executive, manager, or supervisor, would you rather spend your time carrying out the purpose and mission of your organization, or do you want to referee the Olympian-style contests taking place in your organization? Level the playing field, insist on team participation and reward team efforts which focus on going for the gold of high productivity and positive results.
Please Note: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not the intent of Mary Rau-Foster to render legal advice. If legal advice is required, you should seek the services of a competent lawyer.