Sixteen Variations of Mucky-Muck (means conflict)
First, middle managers must know how to identify the most common variations of mucky-muck.
Variation 1:Miscommunication. Middle managers spend a significant amount of time clearing up confusion or hurt feelings that arise from misunderstandings. To reduce the likelihood of miscommunication, managers should make their requests clear and provide examples to illustrate their meaning. They should never rely solely on email, as it is difficult for the recipient to interpret the tone of brief written messages. Instead, managers should regularly talk in person or on the phone, and make sure to overcommunicate rather than assume what others are thinking.
Variation 2:Politics. Nonpolitical managers are often forced to engage in company politics to get things done. Though politics is an inevitable part of many organizations, middle managers can reduce the negative impact of politics by learning the unwritten rules about how decisions are made.
Variation 3:Passing the Buck and Pointing Fingers. Some managers try to shift blame to others when faced with tough questions about their teams, processes, and results. According to Haneberg, these kinds of managers more than likely suffer from low self-esteem and do not want to appear wrong or at fault in front of others. Middle managers who encounter this type of mucky-muck should facilitate discussions in which facts and various perspectives can be conveyed, and they should focus on solving the problem rather than analyzing how the situation arose.
Variation 4:Undiscussables. “Undiscussable” topics can include feelings and opinions about the company, the work, and individual employees and customers. They are issues that people are thinking about but are too delicate to discuss openly in a group setting. The problem is that these issues continue to be discussed by staff in private, which risks eroding relationships in the workplace. There are two ways for managers to ensure that undiscussables do not get in the way of how they lead and manage. The first is to openly acknowledge the undiscussable. The second and less direct approach is to facilitate a situation in which certain individuals bring up the topic in the most palatable way.
Variation 5:Disorganization. Disorganization can affect an individual, a team, or an entire function or company. Managers who take over a new function often face this form of mucky muck. Haneberg suggests that managers create a team event around getting organized so that operations run smoothly and important information does not get lost or overlooked.
Variation 6:Learned Helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when a person or group accepts a certain reality based on previous experiences or information. This situation is very common in the corporate world and is most often faced by managers who take over a team of people who have previously not performed well. Learned helplessness can be unlearned when the middle manager communicates and clarifies expectations and roles, and then follows up with training and reinforcement of the new expectations.
Variation 7:Hidden Agendas. Hidden agendas often revolve around power, being right, getting ahead, looking good to the boss, covering up a failure, or gaining support for a pet project. Hidden agendas become a problem when they get in the way of others doing their jobs in a genuine way. Middle managers can discover hidden agendas by asking open-ended questions about the intent, benefits, and evolutions of the idea or project; they do not have to eliminate the agenda, but they do have to understand it so they can make well-informed decisions about the situation.
Variation 8:Long-Term Alliances. Old relationships and alliances can thwart productivity when they get in the way of sound business decisions or make the workplace dysfunctional. The middle manager’s best defense against being blindsided by long-term alliances is to ask questions early on in the planning process.
Variation 9:Burned Bridges. Burned bridges can get in the way of future communication and collaboration. To prevent burning bridges, managers should never say or write anything that they would not feel comfortable repeating to that person directly.
Variation 10:Clashes in Style. When clashes in style get in the way of productivity and working relationships, managers should acknowledge the differences to disarm the magnitude of the clash. By focusing on the task at hand and not a person’s style, the manager will be more successful in achieving project goals.
Variation 11:Disempowerment. Disempowerment occurs when a manager is overwhelmed by too many tasks while capable employees are left sitting on the sidelines. Disempowerment has a negative effect on both managers and employees. It results in workload problems for the manager, who is taking on more than he should, and it lessens employees’ motivation and job satisfaction. To reduce the effects of disempowerment, managers should regularly review roles and team member workloads with their team.
Variation 12:Contradictory Information. Incorrect information can cause major errors in judgment and decisions. Middle managers who analyze important measurements within their area of responsibility are less likely to be affected by contradictory information.
Variation 13:Duplication of Efforts. Middle managers’ responsibilities often overlap, but duplications of effort waste valuable time and can be disruptive to the organization. Co-workers who regularly get together and communicate about projects and priorities are less likely to encounter duplications of effort.
Variation 14:Sticks-in-the-Mud. Middle managers can deal with change-resistant people by clearly and frequently communicating the purpose, plan, and staff roles that are associated with the change.
Variation 15:Group Defections. Group defection occurs when teams deviate from the directions of management and become their own separate entity. Consequently, the resulting division does not reflect the overall vision of the company, nor can it accomplish team goals. Middle managers can aim to prevent group defections by spending quality time with each team and proactively addressing their concerns and problems.
Variation 16:Sabotage. The most common forms of sabotage are negative, inappropriate comments directed at decisions that have been made. Sabotage harms productivity, communication, and morale. Middle managers can reduce the likelihood of sabotage by being highly visible and accessible during times of change.
Eleven Techniques for Navigating Mucky-Muck
Teams rely on their managers to cut through day-to-day difficulties and help them get their jobs done. Managers can reduce the power of mucky-muck by using the following techniques.
Technique 1:Do the Right Homework. Before starting a project, managers should ask themselves:
* Is there historical information that would be helpful to know?
* What are senior management’s thoughts on the project?
* What approaches have been suggested in the past?
* Should certain preferred vendors or partners be maintained?
Technique 2:Pick and Choose Battles. If managers wage too many battles, they may end up commanding less respect in the organization. High-impact middle managers know how to choose their battles and use their influence for maximum gain and consequence.
Technique 3:Focus Energy Where It Will Count. When individuals or groups are not receptive, managers should focus their efforts in another direction.
Technique 4:Overcommunicate, Be Inclusive, and Follow Up. Middle managers should err on the side of overcommunication to reduce miscommunication, duplication of work, and contradictory information.
Technique 5:Analyze and Fix It. When faced with duplication of work, miscommunication, and contradictory information, great middle managers take the time conduct thorough, thoughtful analysis to solve the problem.
Technique 6:Ask Probing Questions to Reveal Motives and Hidden Agendas. High-impact middle managers know when to ask the right questions that help explain the intent and motivation behind others’ comments and suggestions.
Technique 7:Repair Relationships. Although it can be uncomfortable and difficult, it is important for managers to repair damaged relationships with current employees or co-workers. Repairing a relationship does not mean that the two parties have to socialize with each other, but it does mean that they can work together productively and collaboratively.
Technique 8:Believe in the Capacity People Have for Change and Learning. Great middle managers know that most performance problems are actually management or system problems. Employees with the right guidance and leadership will mostly likely do a great job.
Technique 9:Get Organized. Whether done daily, weekly, or as needed, creating and practicing methods for organizing work is an important skill for middle managers.
Technique 10:Lighten Up and Roll with It. According to Haneberg, sometimes the best approach is to just laugh and move on.
Technique 11:See and Enjoy Accomplishments. Middle managers who produce results and move past obstacles should recognize and take pride in the work they do and the results they achieve.