We're very close to mid-Winters day here in Australia and as we surround ourselves with open fires and comfort food, my thoughts turn to bacon.

Specifically the Bacon War that threatened to derail a $20 million science program.

Many of you will have heard me talking about the Bacon War, the community dispute over whether the bacon should be cooked soft or crispy. On the surface it seemed funny, and it was…until the penny dropped and I realised the Bacon War wasn’t actually about the bacon.

In workplaces, homes and wherever people gather and interact there are moments, both large and small that determine how the group functions.  But it's the little things that build or destroy a culture. Why and how? Well, the little things are often symptoms of deeper issues. 

The little things just like our Bacon War - which, as you have probably worked out, wasn't about the bacon at all. The relationship between 2 teams had broken down over the use of a vehicle and the opposing sides thought the other team was deliberately cooking the bacon the opposite way to what they wanted, just to annoy them. It was not about bacon it was about respect.

Every workplace has a bacon war.

In many offices dirty coffee cups in the sink drive people to despair; in investments banks the bacon war is overnight traders leaving their pizza boxes lying around; it’s mobile phones left to ring out; people using a pool vehicle and bringing it back without petrol in it; people habitually late for meetings; the list is endless… On the surface these all appear to be simple, insignificant things. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find they are often signs of a bigger cultural issue around teamwork and respect. The distraction will almost certainly affect productivity and harmony.

I was recently told, “I don’t get it, by the time someone puts up a notice saying ‘your mother doesn’t work here, put your dishes in the dishwasher’ they could have just put the dishes away.” He didn’t understand, it’s not about the dishes – it’s about respect. Respect for other people’s time and the perception that ‘my time is more valuable than your time’.

Similarly, have you ever received an “all staff” email about an issue in the office that has nothing to do with you, like people leaving wet towels in the shower after riding their bike to work?

Have you ever had an issue that was ignored and festered and became bigger than it should have simply because no one demonstrated leadership and stepped in to solve the problem?

Do you have a staff member who escalates every issue to their Manager without taking accountability? Or Managers who won’t deal with someone’s behaviour even though it is affecting the entire team? These are all examples of leadership gone wrong. Thankfully there is a simple solution.

It takes just 5 seconds to get it right and it could change the way you lead…

The Step In – Step Back approach

We cannot intervene in every single workplace issue, so knowing what to do and when to do it is a crucial skill for leaders everywhere. Get it right and everything continues as planned, but get it wrong and disaster may be just around the corner.

Leadership is about knowing what to do in a specific situation; do I intervene or step back, do I escalate or diffuse a situation.  So, when you’re faced with a dilemma about how to proceed, take 5 seconds and ask yourself 2 questions:

1. How many people does it affect?

2. Does it impact on the teams’ values?

The answer to these 2 questions will determine your actions: step back, diffuse, step-in, or escalate.

© Rachael Robertson, 2013

© Rachael Robertson, 2013


This isn’t the time or place to delve into detail in each part of this model, nor to talk about the trickiest elements – the grey areas in between - that’s all covered in Session 8 of the Extreme Leadership Video Program.  In this session of the program we focus on building judgement through applying this model and displaying consistent, predictable leadership behaviours that build trust.




Take care of the little things and build respect along the way…

because respect trumps harmony, every time.