Backbiting. Whiteanting. Two faced. They say one thing to you, and then ignore it completely. Sometimes you get the eerie feeling that you are the butt of some private joke, but never hear the punchline.

These are signs that the insidious Ground Splitter has emerged on the scene. Like termites in a wood pile, you can see where they’ve been. The usual group norms lie like piles of digested wood crumbs. These are signs of a once healthy culture being laid to waste by small, invisible acts.

It’s insidious! Why can’t they just speak up! How does it get to this point?

When the Ground Splitter takes over, it’s because the environment does not feel safe. There is no longer, or never was, the encouragement to speak up, to challenge the status quo, to question decisions. We shirk and shrink for fear of reprisal. All that pent up concern and fear seeps out in sniping and whispered bitching. It works its way through the wood of the culture until nothing is left but empty casings and the frame of what could have been.

If we find ourselves devolving into a Ground Splitter, we need to take stock of the situation. Is there anything we can do to improve the health of relationships? Can we encourage the airing of grievances? Can we ask to table feedback? Can we encourage open conversation about what is and isn’t working? 

As leaders, we need to ensure that we model open communication. We model admitting faults. We demonstrate what it means to take responsibility. We also need to ensure that the proper structures are in place for feedback across the organisation, and that it is taken gracefully and constructively. We also need to ensure our systems are well-designed so that overwork and overwhelm does not force our people, who are keen to please, into overdrive. It’s hard to admit that we cannot meet expectations. This can push us up against the wall and feel we have no way to get out from under the weight of them but to blame the ones we seek to impress. It’s a weird dynamic and it’s better to design better work flows.

When have you felt your inner devil of the Ground Splitter start to eat away around you? How did you recover? When have you seen it in others? How was it resolved? What triggered it?


Related Articles:

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Is it better to let sleeping dogs lie?

How to influence without alienating others



  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.