Passive behaviour: how it kills teamwork

Timidity. Reluctance to speak up. Deferring to others’ opinions. All of these are ‘passive’ behaviours. At first glance, they don’t seem too problematic. But in team contexts, passive behaviours can create problems. For example, if no-one is prepared to challenge the status quo, change never happens. If team members refer every problem to their manager, business efficiency is reduced. So what are the top three passive behaviours which wreak havoc in teams? And how can you shift them?

Speaking up

Failure to speak in meetings

Passive people feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas, opinions or concerns – especially in group settings. This can lead to important information being missed during planning sessions. It can cause small problems to escalate into crises, simply because no-one spoke up early. And it can damage team dynamics because when individuals’ needs aren’t acknowledged, resentment will bloom.

If you want passive people to speak up more often in meetings, you need to create a safe environment. Distribute agendas well in advance of meetings. This helps more introverted people prepare their contributions. Talk one-to-one with individuals about what sort of contribution you’d like from them. This lets them know that their opinions will be valued. You will be able to find out more about how to create SAFE conversations in Eleanor Shakiba’s upcoming book Difficult People Made Easy.

Upwards delegation of problems

Passive thinking patterns lead to reluctance to make decisions. Problems are passed up to supervisors when they should be solved at the local level. This reduces efficiency, slows down responses to customers and overloads frontline managers. So what can you do to prevent it?

Step one is to ensure that staff members are adequately trained. Check that everyone knows which decisions they are accountable for making – and the processes they should use to make those decisions. If necessary, set up a peer coaching system so that team members support each other as they learn how to make decisions for themselves.

Agreeing with everything

Compliant behaviour can seem attractive, because it minimises conflict. Over the long term, though, it results in groupthink and prevents teams innovating. So it’s important to encourage people to step beyond ‘nice’ behaviours and into assertive mode. Teach your team collaborative problem solving skills or creative thinking techniques. This will build their confidence in speaking up and challenging the status quo in an appropriate and assertive way.

Do YOU need to speak to someone about the impact of their passive behaviour? Download Eleanor Shakiba’s audio program Giving Feedback now.

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