Control Issues

Burning Down the Empire

If you find an empire-builder in your midst, you must act fast:

1. Don't assume everyone is a team player just because your organizational chart reflects teamwork.
While your organizational chart is flat and most employees are assumed to have equal power and rank, the empire-builder is busy building a hierarchy. What results is a "shadow bureaucracy" that management doesn't see.

"For empire-builders, the thinking process is always there. 'How do I consolidate my power?' Even when they pretend to be working as a team, these are not team players," Kossoff says. "If there's no hierarchy put in place by management, the employees will create it for you."

2. Look for systems that don't make sense.
If you have 10 employees on a project that consistently lags behind, or employees are hinting that they can't finish their work without a particular employee's help, you have a problem. Ask employees where their projects are held up. They may point you in the direction of one individual. In fact, Turknett says, frustrated subordinates usually blow the whistle on empire-builders.

3. Don't ignore the situation.
Confront the empire-builder and talk about his or her impact on the company. Require that he or she share knowledge and cross-train other workers. Other techniques, including 360-degree feedback and professional counseling, can also break empire-building habits and force employees to share. "Let the person see it in spades. Put it on the table and keep it on the table until it's resolved," Turknett says. "Otherwise, you're enabling it."

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Control Issues.

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