Combating Weaponised Incompetence in the Workplace

This phenomenon occurs when individuals intentionally underperform or manipulate situations to their advantage, ultimately impeding the progress of the team or organisation as a whole.
A man's lower face and hands. He has his hands to his mouth and looks pensive.

By Chally Kacelnik

In every organisation, you’re aiming for productivity while watching out for potential pitfalls. One such peril, often overlooked yet profoundly impactful, is weaponised incompetence. This phenomenon occurs when individuals intentionally underperform or manipulate situations to their advantage, ultimately impeding the progress of the team or organisation as a whole.

Weaponised incompetence can take various forms. It may involve feigning ignorance to evade responsibility or accountability, intentionally withholding information, or even sabotaging colleagues’ efforts. Regardless of the method, the outcome remains consistent: a toxic work environment where mediocrity thrives, innovation stagnates, and morale plummets.

This often takes the form of people calculatedly forcing others into doing their work, whether to leave themselves with more free time, to avoid tasks they don’t like or see as beneath them, or so that they can redirect their energy into relationship building that elevates themselves. This keeps busy with work any potential rivals for that attention or status (or people believed to be too junior to be worth a positive relationship). We’ve probably all known people who will lie about conducting the work that they’ve pushed off onto one of these colleagues.

Personally, I think people should do work at work, not slack off or play ego games. So, what measures can leaders take to combat this insidious behaviour and cultivate a culture of accountability and excellence?

  1. Set the standard: leaders must set the standard for excellence by demonstrating competence, transparency, and integrity in their own actions. When employees witness their leaders upholding high standards, they are more inclined to emulate such behaviour.
  2. Promote a culture of open communication: encourage workers to voice their concerns, share ideas, and ask questions without fear of reprisal. By fostering open communication channels, leaders can identify issues before they escalate and establish an environment where transparency is prized.
  3. Provide ongoing training and development: invest in the professional growth of workers through training programmes, workshops, and mentorship opportunities. Not only does this enhance individual skill sets, but it also empowers employees to take ownership of their work. If someone demonstrably knows how to do something, then they can’t claim to not be able to do it
  4. Set clear expectations and hold people accountable: establish clear goals, objectives, and performance metrics for each worker, and hold them accountable for meeting these standards. When expectations are explicit and consequences for underperformance are consistently enforced, there is less scope for weaponised incompetence to take root. This means valuing teamwork rather than star players, and being vigilant to monitor workload distribution.
  5. Address issues promptly and fairly: when instances of weaponised incompetence arise, address them promptly and fairly. This may involve collecting data, providing constructive feedback, and implementing corrective measures as necessary. By dealing with issues proactively, leaders can prevent toxic behaviours from spreading.
  6. Celebrate successes and recognise contributions: acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams, and publicly recognise those who consistently demonstrate competence and dedication. Positive reinforcement can help reinforce desired behaviours and motivate employees to continue striving for excellence.

Weaponised incompetence has no place in a productive and healthy work environment. By nurturing a culture of accountability, transparency, and continuous improvement, leaders can mitigate the risks associated with this behaviour and pave the way for success. It is time to take a stand against mediocrity and empower everyone to realise their full potential.

At LKS Quaero, we support organisations with effective management of the people side of work. For more information, visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.