Tips for Wrecking an Organization. Free!

Posted by jlubans on October 12, 2015


Are you disgruntled at work? Are you gruntled but surrounded by unhappy workers? You might want to leaf through the Strategic Services Field Manual #3, Simple Sabotage. It was developed by the Office of Strategic Services near the end of WWII to teach, depending on what side you were on, how to incur or spot sabotage. The nefarious tips for harassing the enemy ranged from over-flowing toilets on the factory floor to spreading low morale (a “culture of complaint”) among shop and office workers.
Declassified in 2012, the manual made few waves; but last month (September 2015) there arrived a management how-to book based on the manual. There’s even an accompanying film noire video.
In its 200 pages the authors dedicate a chapter each to the eight ways of sabotage listed and explained in the 1944 manual. Apart from a multitude of tips for destroying machinery and wrecking plumbing, electrical, and transportation systems in the field manual, the 2015 book is largely about “a second type of simple sabotage” – the human element. Exploiting that, as stated in the 1944 manual, “requires no destructive tools whatsoever and produces physical damage, if any, by highly indirect means. It is based on universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a (sic) uncooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit.
Making a faulty decision may be simply a matter of placing tools in one spot instead of another. A non-cooperative attitude may involve nothing more than creating a (sic) unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers, engaging in bickerings (sic), or displaying surliness and stupidity."
Here are four chapter headings from the 2015 book followed by quotes from the 1944 manual.

Sabotage by Excessive Caution:
“Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.”

Sabotage by Re-opening Decisions:
“Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.”

Sabotage by Obedience:
“Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions."

Sabotage by Committee:
“When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration.’ Attempt to make the committees as large as possible - never less than five.” And, don’t forget to “haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.”

These bring back nightmarish memories of how in my profession we practiced and rewarded some of these very techniques. They were never called sabotage of course, but rather seen as a wooly-minded type of “best practice” well worth emulating. Indeed some regarded these practices as professional and were convinced that this is how leaders lead!
It was always risky to stop these techniques; doing so carried a considerable chance of punishment by risk-averse peers and higher-ups.
At one of my jobs, it was only after decisive leadership that some (not all) of us abandoned the old ways of “paralysis through analysis”, “death by committee”, and risk avoidance regardless of cost. Doing so, we took on risk but made huge gains in our innovation and productivity. It should be noted – which is what the 2015 book purports - that every organization has a fifth column ever lurking, waiting to re-impose excessive caution and obedience at any opportunity. One manifestation of this, at least in my business, occurs when genuinely successful leaders and followers leave, search committees invariably lean toward hiring more conservative-minded staff.

Copyright © John Lubans 2015

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