Leaders in today’s complex organizations are discovering that getting followers together to develop a common set of goals is not only difficult, but it is frequently divisive and disruptive to the normal work flow. Their challenge is to meld the individual perceptions and expectations into a unified vision.
The primary obstacles keeping followers from coming to a common understanding are most often the variances that exist between their attitudes and their behaviors. For example, Doers willingly share their viewpoints and eagerly discuss ideas with others. Not so for those who are suspicious of open deliberations. They either keep quiet or do not respond wholeheartedly and truthfully in communal settings. Getting these hold outs to accept their share of responsibility then becomes a stumbling block.
When it comes to accountability, there are two types of followers: those who accept it and those who avoid it. Most likely it is the underachievers who are shirking responsibility. If you let them, the Doers will take on more responsibility because they thrive on it. Meanwhile the underachievers sit back and enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor, thus splitting the two types apart even further.
As these and other behavioral differences are uncovered, some leaders simply lay the blame on the non-performers and strive to have them replaced. But ridding the organization of dysfunctional workers, even if it were possible, is not the answer. A better solution is to learn how to work them.
First, it is important to try to understand some of the underlying reasons for their behavior. Beginning with childhood, underachievers have been surrounded by authority figures constantly pointing out their faults. Thus, even a well-intentioned exploration of a problem will arouse their instinctive fear of being punished. They suspect that any mass assembly is really a disguised attempt to fix the blame and to humiliate those at fault, in which case they will strongly resist self-disclosure. Before underachievers participate willingly in the information sharing process, they need to appreciate the benefits of self-discovery.
The more you study workplace behavior, the more you understand why underachievers have negative feelings toward teamwork. Collective decision-making reminds them of the dreaded school ground ritual known as choosing sides. As children, they would give up the chance to join in the game rather than run the risk of not being picked. The same is true when they enter the work force. Their fear of rejection is stronger than their desire to participate.
The opposite is true for Doers, for whom the opportunity to be part of the team outweighs the risk of rejection. If one team does not want them, they find another that does. Doers view teams as positive places for learning about themselves and others. They view peer feedback as one of the benefits of teamwork. Doers purposely explore relationships to discover how others perceive them. If the team’s view is negative, they either work on self-improvement to be accepted or find another team that appreciates them for who they are and what they bring to the relationship.