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Turf dynamics shape employees, organizations

Great Expectations

The dynamics of interaction are interesting and valuable in understanding employees, who tend to build microcosms of the world they live in as they go about their daily workdays.

Turf, and the protection of it, is often the most compelling factor in the office, at home or in our little microcosms wherever they are. From the farmer who has thousands of acres of land to the suburbanite with a small house lot, we declare to the world: “This is my turf!” We use posted signs, fences and boundaries to identify and protect our turf.

There is nothing innately wrong with a farmer increasing the size of his farm or posting “No Trespassing” signs — unless he is treating his neighbors unfairly in acquiring their land. Nor is there anything wrong in building a wooden fence to enclose your yard. The chances are great that the farmer invites friends and family to fish his ponds, hunt in his woods and enjoy the fruits of his fields. Most homeowners are also likely to invite friends and neighbors to weekend cookouts or let neighborhood children play in their yards.

Job turf can become as important to us as land. Our turf in the world of work is our perceived role. There are healthy and unhealthy dynamics that occur in this world.

Several extremes exist, and they’re worth taking a look at:

• The employee who protects and increases turf at the expense of his coworkers and employer.

There is nothing innately wrong with an employee who both protects and increases turf, unless he is stepping on his co-workers or hurting his employer. This type of employee often attempts to increase his importance in the eyes of the employer at the expense of co-workers or superiors. The need for expanding turf takes priority over the needs of the business or the development of other employees.

• The employee who protects his turf but refuses to do any work outside his perceived role.

“That’s not my job! This is my job!” — this employee protects his role (and his job security, he thinks) by not allowing anyone else to learn his job. He is also adamant about not having any responsibility assigned to him that is outside his job description. Crosstraining, which is a good business practice, is very threatening to this type of employee.

• The employee who claims no turf.

“I just work here and do what they tell me to do. It is not my fault if things don’t work out right.” — this employee avoids responsibility by not accepting any turf. His lack of risk-taking is an attempt to keep his job by not accepting responsibility and more important, not accepting accountability.

• The employee who shares his turf with others and also shares in others’ turf.

The most valuable employee is one who accepts turf, expands his turf, shares that turf and shares the turf of others. This employee accepts the role and responsibilities of the job and takes on additional responsibilities and learns new skills. He is eager to share information and helps develop others. This employee is also concerned about co-workers meeting their responsibilities and the goals of the business while moving outside a narrow role to help others develop knowledge and skills.

Which one of these categories does each of your employees match? Knowing that can help you develop a better staff and a stronger organization.

Archie King, LPC, is a human resources consultant who lives in Madison. His column appears from time to time in the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at

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