Team Player

“Team Player” is a fictional story about a person involved in a situation that illustrates ethical choices. The story helps us to recognize ethical issues and reminds us how important one person’s actions can be in maintaining a company’s reputation for fair and honest business practices.

At the first meeting of the marketing special projects team, Rex, the newly appointed team leader, announced his game plan.

“Our job is to create results,” he said. “I’m going to put in the hours to make that happen, and I expect all of you to do the same.”

Those words raised a red flag for Rafael. During his three years at the company, he’d enjoyed being part of a group that worked hard to get their work done in a 40-hour week, and his personal life depended on it.

Rafael had reason to worry. As work on the special project took shape, Rex made it clear he expected all his team members to put in 60 to 70 hours a week for the duration of the project.

One evening at 5:30, Rex intercepted Rafael as he was walking out the door.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” asked Rex.

“To meet with my son’s teacher,” said Rafael.

“Funny, I have a son and I’ve never met his teacher,” said Rex. “My wife handles all that stuff in my family. What kind of a man are you?”

“I’m a single dad, and I am very involved in his school life,” said Rafael, heading out the door.

From then on, Rex found opportunities to belittle Rafael in front of others, referring to him as “a prima donna” and “not a team player.” Rafael took the comments in stride, sometimes calmly saying, “I get my work done; no one can say I don’t.”

Unfortunately, Rex often held impromptu meetings at times when Rafael wasn’t around and made no effort to update Rafael on decisions made in his absence, even though the decisions would affect his work.

One afternoon Rafael got a call from their supervisor, Ginny, who said she had an urgent concern. She closed the door to her office as Rafael sat down nervously.

“I’ve gotten some information that troubles me, Rafael. Rex tells me you have been undermining his authority and making it difficult for him to achieve the goals he has set for the special project.”

Rafael listened with growing defensiveness. “I ask for clarifications during meetings. I don’t deliberately undermine him!”

“He told me you snicker under your breath every time he makes a point about improving quality,” said Ginny. “He also says you’re sabotaging the project.”

Rafael’s face felt hot. “That is a complete lie!” he said. “It’s true we don’t get along, but I would never do something like that.”

“So you do admit you’ve been uncooperative?” Ginny asked.

“No,” he said. “I do my work. But I’ve got a son in high school and I just can’t work the kind of hours he demands.”

“Well, Rafael, see what you can do,” said Ginny. “We’ve got some ambitious goals as a division, and I need you to get on board with what Rex is trying to accomplish.”

Without stopping at his desk, Rafael stormed into Rex’s office, where the team leader sat perusing a spreadsheet.

“I need to talk to you right now!” Rafael said, closing the door behind him.

Rex looked up, startled.

“Ginny told me you accused me of sabotaging you. You know that’s a lie,” said Rafael. “I don’t know what you have against me, but if you don’t get off my case, you may be looking at some real sabotage.”

Points to Consider

-What do you think of the way Rex handled his project?

-Was Rafael correct to simply ignore Rex’s negative comments and behavior?

-What could Rafael have done before Ginny spoke to him about Rex?

-What could Ginny have done differently?

-What can Rex and Rafael do now to straighten out this situation?

Questions and Answers

What do you think of the way Rex handled his project?

Although his intentions may have been good, his approach left Rafael and other team members with no options. Once Rex became aware of Rafael’s family obligations, he could have discussed the situation with him and attempted to find alternatives to his having to be at work after normal business hours. His belittling comments and failure to communicate important decisions were unacceptable behavior.

Was Rafael correct to simply ignore Rex’s negative comments and behavior?

No. Rex’s comments and behavior could be considered harassment, and Rafael should have reported them to Ginny or to Human Resources. 

What could Rafael have done before Ginny spoke to him about Rex?

His meeting with Ginny and his confrontation with Rex could have been avoided if he had taken action earlier to address the conflict. Rafael could have spoken up and communicated with Rex directly about how to balance his work and family obligations. If this effort had been unsuccessful, he could have spoken to Ginny. If he still found no help with the problem, he could have contacted Human Resources or the Ethics Office.

What could Ginny have done differently?

She could have discussed the matter with Rex and Rafael together, rather than relying exclusively on Rex’s word. She could have helped the two come to an agreement about work hours. More broadly, she could have clarified the company’s policy about overtime and coached Rex appropriately about how to apply it.

What can Rex and Rafael do now to straighten out this situation?

Rafael is angry, but threatening sabotage is not the best solution. He might try explaining that Rex needs his contribution to this project in order for it to succeed, and though they might have differences, they can be worked out. Instead of continuing to undermine and retaliate against Rafael, Rex could negotiate a solution to the problem of work hours.

Keys to Remember

-It’s best for employees and supervisors to address problems as soon as they develop to avoid an escalation of angry or resentful feelings. Open, honest discussion keeps the workplace atmosphere healthy.

-Addressing problems promptly requires an understanding of the resources available to resolve problems. The supervisor is usually the first place to go, followed by HR, the Ethics Office, or the Helpline.

-A healthy workplace includes mutual respect between management and employees and among co-workers. This includes respect for their professional and personal lives and responsibilities.

-Using intimidation or threats as a means of retaliation against an employee or co-worker is never acceptable.