Avoiding Judgment of Non-Participators

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about those who don’t participate: It’s not good to judge others, but what can you do to get non-participators to come on board?

What can members of a team do to not pass judgment on another team member who does not participate? How do you get him/her to come on board?

Signed, Get On Board

Dear Get On Board:

Yours is a common question because team member’s commitment and effort often are not equal. Forget not being judgmental. It’s impossible not to become aware of members who don’t pull their own weight. The issue is then bound up in your second question: How do you get a non-participant to come on board? There is a generic answer of how to cope with such behavior constructively; however, each situation hinges on the task and composition of its team. Therefore, analysis of your situation entails first-hand knowledge of the history of your team and the rewards that come from working together effectively and/or penalties for not.

With this caveat, here are some suggestions that you might consider:

1. Team members do pass judgment on one another, just as an orchestra director must judge if each of its members is playing an assigned part and just as a coach must pull a player who fails. It’s a natural desire to work harmoniously, but teams fail when they fail to confront members who don’t do their fair share. The façade of cohesiveness must be replaced with assertiveness–assertiveness focused on the task, and not personality. Tolerance for non-participant’s personal reasons for low performance is important but will only go so far. The fact is that a team managing a big sailboat isn’t a solo operation and those individuals who prove not to eagerly do their jobs had best be told to not get in the way. They had better go scuba diving on their own.

2. Formulate a clear team structure. Tasks must be clearly defined and assigned; what, where, when and who. If a self-managed team is responsible for tiger run at the San Diego Zoo, that team must assign who orders the feed, cleans the cages, decides the animals diet, etc and how the jobs are rotated. Should it be found that an individual responsible for a task has failed to do it, the team should have protocols for confronting that failure.

3. Interpersonal tensions are inevitable and are in flux: who feels like she/he belongs or is on the fringes; who’s up and who’s down as to leadership and influence; who is liked and less liked. Relational development and nurturing are not unimportant. Therefore, time-out times should be expected to address such questions as: what have we been doing that deserves applause? Is our leadership shared? What might we do to make each others’ work easier, more effective and even more fun?

4. Developing a critical path to project accomplishment is a team’s responsibility. Those tasks and sequences should be posted and team monitored. Time frames and benchmarks of quality should be set.

5. Cultural expectations and values should be an on-going matter of team skull sessions. That might entail hammering out do and don’t rules of communication and how work will be reviewed. Cultural norms include times to be at work, safety procedures, dress, who speaks to suppliers, customers and the public and formats for problem solving. Often teams neglect to establish cultural expectations for dealing with differences. Conflict should be seen as an opportunity for clarification of perspectives and creativity. Argument should be seen as important to problem analysis and deciding a course of action.

6. Overarching goals should be articulated, such as cross training of team members, numbers for defects, cutting waste, delighting customers and innovation. Team members have self interest and those self interests should be merged in job security, feelings of value, being wanted, and being both psychologically and economically engaged in what can be accomplished as a team and not alone.

Please tell me if these considerations can be applied the context of your workplace. What have you done or failed to do say, “Get On Board”? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is not just a benediction. It is a must for making teams work.

William Gorden