How to Respond with Grace and Resolve When Teammates Disengage
Isolation and disengagement may be normal in the short-term. Things happen.
Patterns of disengagement fracture teams.
7 reasons people disengage:
#1. They want something.
Shutting others out may be a message, “I’m not getting what I want and I don’t like it.” It’s a strategy we used when we were little. Do you remember scooping up your toys and running home because things didn’t go the way you wanted?
#2. They feel guilty.
Guilt makes some people pull away. Are they hiding something? Did they screw up?
#3. They hurt.
For better or worse, disengagement may mean they’re hurting and they want some time alone.
#4. They need time to think.
Some people make up their minds slowly. For those who ‘build the airplane in the air’, it’s hard to accept that some people think before they act.
#5. They wonder if you care.
Disengagement may be an individual’s way of seeing if you care.
#6. They feel threatened.
#7. They are manipulative.
Grace and resolve when teammates disengage:
#1. Back off.
Give space when people who normally are engaged pull back. Wait a day or two to see if they return to normal.
Note: Don’t back off when issues are crucial. The success of the team takes priority over the comfort or distress of the individual.
#2. Say what you see.
Name the behavior. Don’t judge it. “I notice that you seem quiet the last couple days. I could be wrong, but I’m wondering if things are OK?”
#3. Ask what they need.
“I notice you seem quiet lately. I wonder if you need something?”
#4. Circle back if disengagement persists.
Follow up when things don’t change up. Avoid the temptation to just move on.
#5. Stay on topic.
Don’t allow manipulative team members to distract you from organizational imperatives.
What makes some people pull back?
How might leaders respond with grace and resolve when teammates disengage?
You left off one important factor — some team member disengage because they are not accepted. Acceptance is an important element for team members.
Thanks Denny. Powerful addition. Much appreciated.
As a coach, one thing I struggle with is how hard to push a player that is introverted in terms of perceived disengagement.
Dan, if people are getting nothing (or perceive they’re getting nothing) out of participating, why would they? Maybe in that situation you have to ask yourself if it’s reasonable for you to expect something for nothing?
Hi Dan, thanks for another great article. When you say “Don’t back off when issues are crucial. The success of the team takes priority over the comfort or distress of the individual.”, this could be a double edged sword. As you also mentioned, “patterns of disengagement can fracture teams”, and in my experience pattern-less disengagement can certainly hurt a teams productivity and put deadlines at risk, especially in smaller teams where each individual plays a crucial part in keeping all balls in the air.
I really connect with this post, as I do with most of what you write. I have been studying Bolman & Deal’s (2003) four frames and it seems the angle of the pressure we place on the response may need to be filtered through the frames first. Depending on whether the resistance is seen as a structural, HR or a symbolic problem, It may determine our response. It seems that this may address some of the response perspectives mentioned in the chat above. Your thoughts?
This has quickly become my favorite blog. Are you hiding somewhere in my organization and posting based on what you are seeing? 🙂 Very timely for my needs right now.
Thanks Country. It seems many of us share similar challenges.
Often people disengage because they don’t feel valued. Their expertise and ideas are not respected or listened to. I generally find that by giving them some space, listening hard and taking on board their views and offering support (genuine support for the needs they identify), you can bring them back on board.