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Beware of the mole in your team

At work, you might have an independent portfolio of activities to manage. But unless you run a one-man-army outfit, you are most likely to be part of a bigger team that draws an eclectic mix of colleagues with different skills. That variety is precisely what gets the job done. Even if you are, consider a relatively non-hierarchical peer group - some bring in hard-core technical skills, others are coordinators, while a few vie to be the de facto leaders of the group. This peer group is separated from those on the other side of the table - the senior management.

Then there's the other unique species that has mastered the art of camouflage and flourishes in the no-man's land between the team and the management. In fact, if you search for them on internet search engines, you'll find all the other definitions for the same word, except what you are really looking for.

Just because you don't see them openly doesn't mean they don't exist. AFP

Hard to believe? Type out 'moles' in Google and see what you get on the first page - unit of measurement, small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle, growths on the skin, an isolation framework for .NET (whatever that means). No mention at all about our special friends who lurk around in offices. That's how good they are.

But just because you don't see them openly doesn't mean they don't exist. They look like regular folks, they laugh at the same jokes you make about the senior management and they also stay back late in office with the rest of the team to show solidarity.

The ability to stay below the radar helps them achieve another key function - operating in the stealth mode to make a mountain out of a (hah, you guessed it) mole-hill. Innocent grapevine that the team uses as a pressure release mechanism gets (mentally) recorded, spiced-up and delivered to an information-starved manager who might otherwise be socially cut off from his team (for reasons ranging from bureaucracy to an inflated ego). For the mole, the significant erosion of personal goodwill is a small price to pay for the sense of control and security it seems to provide.

The animosity, the negative vibes and the wrath that moles incur from the rest of the team members get more than balanced out by the support they command from the powers that be. If at all there's a confrontation with a team member, it's clear where they'll get their backing from. If you've been on the receiving side, tough luck, my friend.

There's also a scarier mutation of this species - the shameless mole. These are guys who started off like any other regular rookie moles, ignorant of their true potential. After years of fine-tuning their art and getting the trust of their mentors, they've come out of hiding and moved on to the next level. They now look at the camouflage part as an extra burden on their limited resources. Everyone knows who they are and what purpose they serve in the team. So why bother putting on a holier-than-thou act?

The flip side? People around them pull up their defences whenever they are within a few kilometers of striking distance. So how do they continue to eke out inside information that's so very critical for their survival. The answer - through other rookie moles who'd like to grow up and become shameless moles just like their idols. The basic modus operandi remains the same - Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Have you had moles in your office? How did you deal with their efforts to 'increase transparency and information flow' between the junior guys (i.e. the team) and the senior management?