Sabotaging colleagues

Making colleagues miserable

During World War II, the US Office of Strategic Services distributed the Simple Sabotage Field Manual in occupied Europe with tips on how to sabotage companies. When I stumbled upon the document years later, it became the inspiration for an exercise. The ‘sabotage colleagues’ exercise sort of builds further on the Office of Strategic Services and asks participants to think of ways to make their colleagues’ lives miserable, with the intention to learn from that and to do the opposite after. It uses a simple 1-2-4-all structure as the basis for the exercise.

The exercise works very well to make people and teams see and understand what is counter-productive behavior and that more often than not, they show some of this behavior on a daily basis.

There is a separate exercise about sabotaging customers.

Unhappy colleagues


Time frame

Group size


Facilitation level

Comfort level participants

Materials needed

Pen and paper to write down observations.

Five Structural Elements for Sabotaging customers

Like with the regular 1-2-4-all, there is not much extra role for the facilitator apart from sticking to the precise timing, making sure the reflection alone is in silence and cutting short the “all” part of the exercise. It asks -however- to spend a bit more time in warming up people in the invitation and adds an extra step of reflection at the end.

Five structural elements

How to read the instructions

To bring some structure to tools and excercises, I borrowed the “five structural elements” from Liberating Structures. It is an easy and structured way to describe the different dimensions of an exercise.

More on the elementsHire me as facilitator

Ask participants to digg deep into their evil selves and think of ways to sabotage their colleagues, to make them miserable and make them go home crying and never return. In the invitation, encourage creativity and going wild, this helps opening up the minds of most attendants.

It can help to refer to the Office of Strategic Services Simple Sabotage Field Manual – I wrote a separate blog post on it.

How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
  • Unlimited number of groups
  • Space for participants to work face-to-face in pairs and foursomes (chairs and tables are optional)
  • Paper for participants to record observations and insights
Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
  1. Silent self-reflection by individuals – how would you sabotage colleagues? (1 minute)
  2. Generate ideas in pairs, building on ideas from self-reflection for 2 minutes.
  3. Share and develop ideas from your pair in fours (notice similarities and differences) for 4 minutes.
  4. As a facilitator ask “What is one idea that stood out in your conversation?” with each group sharing one important idea with all participants for 5 minutes.
  5. Finally (on top of the “normal” 1-2-4-all), reflect on all ideas shared and discussed – which behavior are people showing on a regular basis and should be stopped to avoid making colleagues miserable? In some cases, it helps to collect all ideas in groups (so have the fours write down all the ideas) to then visually mark which anti-colleague behavior is practiced on a regular basis. This sometimes makes the frequency more tangible.
How Groups Are Configured

Start alone, then in pairs, then foursomes, and finally as a whole group

How Participation Is Distributed
  • Everyone in the group is included (often not the facilitator)
  • Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute
Additional tips and pointers
  • In some cases, it helps to collect all ideas in groups (so have the fours write down all the ideas) to then visually mark which anti-customer behavior is practiced on a regular basis. This sometimes makes the frequency more tangible.
  • Because of the structure, it neutralises the influence by a “leader”, making it a very useful exercise for unlocking a discussion that has become dysfunctional or stuck or for a group that tends to be excessively influenced by its leader.
  • The exercise does not seem to work as part of a presentation (I never really got it to work) – I am not sure why (yet).

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Polle de Maagt

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