Coworker Sabotoging Your Office? Maybe She’s a CIA Spy

Have you ever worked with someone who seemed genuinely more interested in ruining morale than in doing any work?

Turns out the CIA thought that an employee could do serious damage to a business.

If it was a business the CIA wanted to destroy, their best bet was to send in someone to destroy it from the inside out.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual from 1944 details all sorts of technical ways to sabotage a business.

Related Article: Real Talk: Which Annoying Coworker Are You?

For instance, how to destroy tires and heating systems and slow production lines. But, the most interesting part of the manual comes at the end–page 28, labeled “General Interference with Organizations and Production.”

The thing is, I think I’ve worked with people that are following these sabotage instructions. Were they sent from the CIA to destroy the business, or did they actually think what they were doing was better?  Here are some (but not all) of the ideas on how to sabotage.

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.”Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Advocate “caution.””Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.”
  • Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products, send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
  • When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
  • Multiply paperwork in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.

Have you worked with people like this? Have you ever been this person? So many of the things are little and certainly wouldn’t be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to destroy someone’s business, but they have that effect, nevertheless. Here are how a few of these play out in real life.

Decision by Committees

Committees themselves aren’t bad things. Teamwork is good. Ideas from multiple people are good. Brainstorming is good. So why is the creation of a large committee considered a way to sabotage a business? What happens when you have too many people? 

I’ll tell you what happens. Nothing. No one can agree on anything (unless you have a dictatorial leader who everyone automatically says yes to). While nothing is happening in the all-important meeting, no other work is getting done. If 12 of you are sitting around a table, that means 12 people are doing no other work. It’s super inefficient.

Committees can be fabulous things, but before you invite half the world, figure out who really needs to be there. Set your meeting goals in advance and stay on topic. Don’t get dragged down mysterious paths. Keep to your allotted time. And if worst comes to worst, make everyone wear high heels and take away the chairs. Guaranteed your committee will come to a consensus rapidly.


We like to think about perfection as a goal to attain. Lots of people like to claim they are “perfectionists.” While some things are super important, most are not. When you focus all your efforts on reaching perfection on things that don’t matter, you simply slow everything down–which is the goal of the corporate sabotager.

For instance, for many years I did a monthly headcount report for the head of HR. He was always happy with whatever I sent, but his assistant was a nightmare of perfectionism. She wanted the report to be perfect, so each month she’d send it back for “changes.” What were the changes? “Change this line to be 4 pts instead of 3. Change this line to be 3 pts instead of 4. Change the font to Times New Roman.” Her list would sometimes go on for a whole page, and none of the changes were ever substantive.

The funny thing was after I got the January report formatted to her liking, I’d do the February report with the exact same template, and she’d come back with a list of changes, many of which were undoing the previous months’ changes. Hmmm, maybe she was trying to sabotage things. She was ridiculous.

Incomplete Information

How often has your day or your projected been thwarted because someone, somewhere forgot to tell you something critical? Have you ever been yelled at because you did steps A, B, and C, but not D because no one told you there even was a D? Has a customer ever been angry because someone didn’t click the final button to submit her order because the person had never been trained that she needed to do that?

When we hire new people, we often lack training manuals and don’t devote enough time to training them. Then we get upset when they make errors. Can we not see it is us that our sabotaging the department and not the new hire?

Related Article: Problems at Work? 10 Signs That It’s Not Them, It’s You

What can we do?

It’s worth your time to go through the CIA’s complete list and see if any of these problems plague your department or company. If any do, it’s time to stop them right now. When people ask why the change, direct them to the list. “Doing this is damaging to our business.” Why would we want to do that?  

What Next?

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