Stop that Mole Now

by Steven M. Smith · 8 comments

Do you have a mole undermining the work of your team? Someone who constantly complains privately to any teammate who will listen but refuses to bring that same complaint publicly to the team? Someone whose actions are destroying teamwork?

A mole erodes productivity. Stop that mole now.

A team is like a garden. A good gardener manages pests —

Bambi, a deer, can kill a portion of your garden by eating your produce’s leaves. His attacks can be seen so they can be managed by the non-specialist, by using such means as scaring him; erecting a fence; planting produce that he doesn’t like; and using chemicals that make your plants smell or taste yucky.

Buck, a mole, undermines the roots of your garden killing your produce. But unlike Bambi, you can’t see Buck in action so his attacks are almost impossible to mange by the non-specialist. For instance, scaring him won’t work because you can’t see him; erecting a fence won’t stop him because he does his work under the surface; planting different produce won’t stop him because his food source is the worms, insects and grubs beneath your garden; and using chemicals to kill the insects and grubs won’t stop him because his primary food source is the worms.

Bambi’s behavior can be managed so that it is an annoyance. Buck’s behavior is much different — it’s destructive.

Real moles aren’t malicious. Their intention is to eat rather than destroy the garden. I admire them for their single mindedness and work ethic. I, however, disdain a mole on my team.

I believe the Bucks of the world think their actions are helpful. But unlike my ability to manage the Bambis, I don’t have the special skills necessary to consistently manage or turnaround the Bucks. And in my experience, I estimate that there are only 0.1% of all managers who have that special management (therapy) skill.

What’s to be done? Confirm you are dealing with a sibling of Buck’s by — bringing the tunneling behavior to the person’s attention, telling them it’s unacceptable, and determining whether the tunneling continues. If it does, work with HR to immediately rid yourself of them.

Once they’re gone, the team will feel like the weight of the world was lifted from their shoulders. Productivity will skyrocket. Stop that mole. Now.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry January 15, 2010 at 7:15 am

I have mixed feeling about this. Surely there are people who you just can’t change. But I think merely get rid of them did not fix the root cause of the problem – why do you have Mole in your team? did you attain him? did you force him to become a Mole? …


Steven M. Smith January 15, 2010 at 9:30 am

Hi Harry, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

I could have been clearer about the types of complaints you constantly hear in private from Buck, such as “…that will never work;” “Joe is an idiot;” and “I told you so.” These words tear at the roots of teamwork, which is based on congruent communication. If Buck is unable, regardless of the reason, to change his communication so it’s public, he needs to go.

Often, concern over Buck’s feelings becomes more important than concern about your own feelings and your teammates’. I’ve been caught by that trap. I suggest you not make the same mistake.

Will ridding your team of Buck solve the root cause? Probably not. I like your thought process. I would like you to consider whether solving the root cause is in your span of control. If you can solve or prevent the problem by a bigger environmental play, I’m all for it. Otherwise, take care of your own garden first. When you see dead spots, if you know it’s the work of mole, stop him now. Watch the garden grow.


Harry January 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

Thank you for the response. I totally agree with your point. My feelings come from the experience of seeing people use ‘blaming’ or ‘ridding of mole’ as a cover or a quick fix. I am sure that is not what you are talking about here.


Steven M. Smith January 15, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Hi Harry, I’m with you. I’ve been part of organizations where the blaming finger is in constant use. It hurts. It stinks. It destroys.

Upper managers who blame poison the environment. And the blame flows through the organization. People cope with the poison, but many hide their anger waiting for the opportunity to strike back. It’s a sick dance. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Thank you for commenting.


D Dee May 29, 2010 at 12:14 am

Sounds good until you realize the supervisor and managers are the ones that are the moles. Thus, setting up the moral fibers of the breakdown themselves for all co-workers and team functionality to even exist. When they go person to person planting the seeds of destruction of the organization, company, or project; all is frost to freezing killing any hopes of success along with hatching more moles to up root all and any roots attempting to live and produce in the “garden”! Of course, then it is always known it is not their fault for any failings or deads of the project or goals. Supervisors and Management all agree – It has to be the fault of the ones working on it even though the moles (supervisors/management) state very clearly and loudly tthat everyone that works for them is just too stupid to ‘garden in their garden”! But then you have the ones not working on it, that are just brilliant so they can look upon the “garden” and get credit for what was accomplished. So when management/supervisor fail the worker, the team, the organization – no where to go but hide in the dirt where the garden died.


Steven M. Smith June 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I’m saddened to hear about your experience. I have had similar experiences. Thankfully, there have only been a few of them. But you are right, these managers did destroy the garden. Fortunately, people aren’t rooted like plants. They can find another place. I wish for you no more of these kind of experiences.

Thank you for sharing your experience.


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