There’s a funny column in this month’s Harvard Business Review I think many people will be able to relate to. Called “Munchausen at Work,” it describes a phenomenon Georgia Tech management professor Nathan Bennett noticed when studying team performance in more than 30 companies in different industries. He relates to the workplace the psychological disorder commonly known as Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, which Wikipedia defines as “involves a caregiver who feigns or induces an illness in another person, usually to gain power and control over the victim as well as attention or sympathy from others.” Bennett notes that in our performance-driven, layoff-paranoid workplaces, where people are valued for solving problems and try to make themselves irreplaceable, “a similar pathology occurs….when employees create fictitious organizational problems, only to solve them.”
He gives the example of a manager in a Fortune 100 professional services firm that had a reputation for getting people to work together. To reaffirm that status, he’d purposely drive people apart only to bring them back together. Bennett offers a few questions managers should ask to try to identify people afflicted with “MAW”:
>>Is the employee disproportionately involved in identifying and fighting fires?
>>Is the employee unusually resistant to offers of help in addressing problems he or she has identified?
>>Does the employee deflect management’s efforts to understand a problem’s underlying cause?
>>Are the facts and coworkers’ accounts at odds with the employee’s claims about a problem’s existence or severity?
>>Are problems with a project, a customer, or a process, or between colleagues, frequently resolved in the employee’s absence?
How can you manage smarter? Bloomberg Businessweek contributors synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.