An IT Leader’s Guide To Managing “A-Type” Personalities

by drjim on October 8, 2008

Some Rivalry Is A Good Thing, Too Much Can Be Trouble...

Some Rivalry Is A Good Thing, Too Much Can Be Trouble…

So we’ve talked just a bit about the dangers of having players in your department / on your team who get so caught up in something that winning becomes everything to them. It’s almost as though you were attending an auction and it got down to the last two bidders on something and they both just went completely bonkers and started to try to out-bid each other – no longer caring what the real value of the thing that they were bidding on was. This can happen in IT and IT leaders need to spot the warning signs so that they know when to take action.

Rivalry: I’m pretty sure that we are all quite familiar with this driver of competitive arousal! What’s interesting is that it turns out that competitive arousal is quite common (oh, and dangerous) when the level of rivalry is intense. What this leads to quite naturally is the conclusion that head-to-head rivalry is the type of behavior that most interferes with rational decision making. In studies of auctions, researchers found that people would blow right by their preset limits when they were bidding against just a few bidders. The smaller the number of bidders, the greater the rivalry. In IT this drive can show it’s ugly head when we are in negotiations with vendors or with potential employee candidates.

Time Pressure: It’s almost like those scenes that you see in a movie: the sound of a ticking clock or the image of a digital timer counting down seems to cause people to become overwhelmed and can cause their desire to win to basically go crazy. This one is pretty easy for IT leaders to figure out. Time pressure impares decision making by increasing the IT employee’s psychological arousal. This then decreases their ability to find and apply any more relevant information that could help them solve the issue. The IT employee will then revert to their simple decision making processes and stick with it no matter if it is correct for the situation. We’ve all been in time crunches, it’s just that some of us let it impact our decision making ability more than others.

Spotlight: Everything changes when we think that all eyes are upon us. Once again research has shown that when there is an audience for what is going on, especially if the audience is fully engaged in the events, then this will increase the psychological arousal in an IT employee and thereby reduce their problem solving and creativity. In IT we can see this time after time when we work our way through negotiations, bidding wars, inter-departmental disputes, etc. If the issue is being worked quietly, then perhaps everyone will remain rational. However, once that big bright spotlight of publicity gets shone on the proceedings, then everything can change.

With all this being said, you might be getting the impression that competitive arousal is a bad thing. No so. However, too much of it can lead to bad decision making. Next time we’ll talk about how IT leaders can manage competitive arousal within their organization.

Have you ever witnessed a rivalry that got out of hand? What made you realize that you were no longer dealing with rational people? Was the rivalry ever resolved? How do you work under time pressures? Do you feel that the less time you have, the less creative you are? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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