It happens in conference rooms within most organizations; the blank stares, the doodling, the bored expressions. Meanwhile, there is work that needs to be done that is coupled with a lack of motivation. You have a team of talented and intelligent individuals who have one thing in common, they are waiting for you to direct them. They act, but only after receiving instructions. This is when you look out into each of their faces and realize a culture of passivity has developed. It signals a slow death for those organizations who are unable to identify the problem and take immediate action. A culture of passivity ignores innovation, kills creativity, and punches progress in the face.
You may wonder though, what’s so bad about having a team that follows instructions and gets the job done? Right there, that’s the problem. They get a job done. What they accomplish are the actions listed under the typed words following job description. No more and no less. They arrive by 9 and leave by 5 and are neither fulfilled nor motivated professionally. A culture of passivity is a disservice to the organization and to the individual. Quite often, a culture of passivity develops from fear; the fear of being wrong, the fear of failure, and the fear of commitment. While you cannot totally eradicate fear in others, it can be mitigated by shifting the culture to one of engagement, ownership, and responsibility.
- Engagement: Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s a part of human nature to belong and to contribute. When a culture of passivity sets in, the fear of being wrong overcomes the desire to contribute. As a leader, it’s important to foster an environment that welcomes and encourages engagement across all levels and departments. A productive environment empowers individuals to challenge the status quo and contribute to continuous improvement.
- Ownership: Motivation and work quality increases when individuals are invested in the work they do. Team members want to help realize the organization’s vision and this is accomplished through a sense of ownership. Ownership does not mean a singular effort, it’s quite the opposite. Ownership is a collaborative effort in which each team member's ideas are valued. It means they have a stake in the outcome as a whole. As a leader, it’s vital to allow team members the opportunity to tackle a project and provide a solution using their perspective. Sometimes the results are better than we could have imagined.
- Responsibility: One of the most admired characteristics in a leader is the ability to accept responsibility for decisions and actions. Equally important is to help develop this same characteristic in team members. Holding team members accountable for decisions made does not mean taking negative action. Accountability is an opportunity to review what could have been done better. It creates an environment that values improvement and team building. As a leader, it’s important to convey that no one is perfect. Team members need a safe environment to express their opinions and examine failures objectively.
Individuals want to be a part of a high-functioning and effective team. It not only supports the organization's vision, but allows everyone to contribute to an organization’s “why.” It’s the “why” that gets us up out of bed every morning. Without establishing a “why” for your organization, you allow a culture of passivity to develop. People stop and wonder how certain companies are named “best place to work” year after year and it’s because they have built teams who understand the “why” and who actively engage, practice ownership, and take responsibility. They have figured out how to fail forward without losing momentum.
“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” ~ Simon Sinek
How do you allow your team members to fail forward?