The Surprising Way to Encourage Disengagement

Within three years, Mike had gone from an excited, creative new hire full of passion, energy and ideas, to a guy with one foot out the door with disengagement like carbon monoxide: invisible and impossible to smell. Here is his story.

My first year, my ideas and alternative views were “refreshing.” I was quickly viewed as a rising star and invited to the right meetings. I was pleased to be rewarded with the coveted “exceeds expectations” rating. I was constantly looking for ways to improve our processes and make the company better. The next year, I guess I got a little too comfortable with sharing my opinions. In hindsight, I could have positioned them better, but I was saying what needed to be said. And every time I left a meeting the level above (except my boss) would thank me for speaking the truth. I just cared so much about our cause and was attached to our vision.

I received a “developing rating” that year.  That’s when I knew I was going to have to leave, but I wanted it to be on my own terms. I decided the only way to survive was to just stop caring. And that’s what I did. I buried my passion and I went along, even if I knew a better approach. And that year, I was once again given the rating of “exceeds expectations.” I “exceeded expectations” by caring less, offering less, and doing less.”

Mike’s boss made a point to chime in on the appraisal with a comment: “It’s nice to have you back.”

Mike is convinced his secret was subtle, but I doubt it. I imagine other box 9 candidates with great ideas vicariously got the “settle down” message and stiffled their enthusiasm as they polished their resumes.

It’s easy to think of engagement as everyone singing along with a merry smile.

Dig deeper. Your most engaged players may be the naysayers. They may need some polish, but be careful not to rub off their passion and value in the process.

An Easy Way to Discuss Dysfunctional Behavior at Work

Whether your team is just starting up, or has the battle scars of a team fighting for results, they need to find a way to talk about the behaviors getting in their way. Great leaders look for ways to make this conversation easier.

Dysfunctional behavior can be hard to talk about because it feels so personal.  Many times people wait to have important difficult conversations until the issue has escalated. It’s harder then.

A Functional Conversation on Dysfunction

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Plato

I like to use this exercise early in a team’s formation to get folks talking about common experiences and appropriate remedies as early in the game as possible. This conversation also provides a safer feeling infrastructure to surface important dynamics a mature team needs to share without direct confrontation.

Step 1:

Give every team member 6-7 Post-it notes. Ask them to identify the behaviors that (in their experience) most get in the way of results or team progress. It’s important to tee-up that this is based on a lifetime of experience, not just this team. Then ask them to write one behavior on each Post-it.

Step 2:

As team members are ready, have them bring their Post-it notes to a wall or white board and begin to self-organize them into clusters. Enjoy the banter as the clusters form.

Step 3:

Circle the biggest dysfunctions.

My experience shows they will read something like this (I’d love for you to share your findings):

  1. Arrogance (by a landslide)
  2. Unmotivated (and/or lazy)
  3. Self-serving motives and actions
  4. Lack of communication
  5. Disrespect
  6. Stubborness
  7. Drama
  8. Anger-bullying
  9. Passive-Aggressive

Step 4:

Take the top few categories and invite the team to share what they would do when encountered with such scenarios. Encourage them to share stories of best practices they’ve used in the past.

Step 5:

Develop a set of standards or team norms for how such issues would be addressed if they were to occur on this team. Encourage the sharing of stories from best experiences and overcoming dysfunctional behavior.

It’s very important for teams to talk about their own dysfunction. But early in the game, it may be easier to talk about standards and stories to establish a framework for the future.