Culture Bites Podcast - 001 Kick Starting a Passive Team

Published on 17 Apr 2018

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In this episode, we answer a letter from a listener who is trying to move their team from Passive to Constructive. Below is the letter and key takeaways from our conversation. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, email 

"Dear Culture Bites,

I am part of an innovation team which is tasked to develop new products for our company. Our team should be constantly trying out new ideas, learning and developing. Instead, we go around in circles because no one really wants to make any decision on how we proceed forward with an idea. A common response is, “we need more information before we can decide”. It doesn’t help that we don’t have a clear leader in the group – our manager looks after several teams. We have tried to set a process on how to move forward, and we follow it for a few weeks but then it gets forgotten. Also, when a new idea is suggested, we tend to focus more on why it won’t work rather than why it will - which is a total motivation killer for me. As a team member, what can I do to influence the team to be more Achievement orientated?"


 Key Takeaways and Ideas

Create Safety Through Structure

When a team is Passive, they are looking for levels of certainty. In the absence of a leader, you can achieve that sense of certainty by providing a really clear framework and step by step process.

  • Be really clear on what the goal is
  • Get agreement and a unified purpose in the team on what it is that you’re there to do.
  • Get agreement on the criteria for ‘what good looks like’
  • have a structured process for how the team solves problems

As the team gets more comfortable with taking small risks, you’ll find that they start to run the team automatically – it’ll be more organic, but initially it has to have a little bit more structure.

Build Rather than Bust

One of the problems, when innovation doesn’t happen, is because people get into evaluating the idea too quickly. Instead we need to flip it around and instead of people saying what won’t work about an idea, the focus is completely on how it could work. Don’t evaluate whether it’s realistic, or whether it can happen. The agreement and the rule is ‘how can we make it work’, or ‘under what conditions could it work’. 

Raise Awareness about Behaviours

So many teams never have a conversation about how they are actually performing and how they work together – instead we all get busy with the day to day. In a passive team like this, their group behaviour is like a habit and you have to be able to name it to tame it. The key is to help the team to act, so the trick is to experiment and try things. Two approaches you could use to do this with your team are:

Team SWOT - Get everyone involved in creating a SWOT analysis for the team. It’s really simple, but enough structure to get everyone working on the task together. Through doing a SWOT, teams become aware of their patterns and their way of operating. The key is to then focus on the opportunities in terms of what could we do differently.


Team Keep-Stop-Start – Another really simple tool to get everyone working ‘on’ the team rather than ‘in’ it is the Keep-Stop-Start. Usually we’d put up big flip charts on the wall and people can either write on them directly or attach post-it notes to it. The three sheets are:

Some tips to try in Team Meetings

Each Team Member Takes Ownership - In Passive teams it’s easy to point the finger to someone else, it’s safe to let someone else make decisions. So the question is how to encourage others to come forward, step into a leadership role, and play around with making decisions. One approach is for each person in the team to take turns being responsible for running the team meeting.

Build In a Review – At the end of each meeting, build in a reflection on how you work as a team. How did we go? What happened? Where were our stalling points? What should we do differently next time?

Change the Length – Make the meetings single focus and shorter. With a passive team the key is to get progress and momentum on your side. Keeping it prompt and to the point creates a sense of energy, movement, and structure.

Tips for Individuals within a Passive Team to Stay Constructive

Be Clear about what’s Important to You – When things feel overwhelming or you can’t get to do the task in the way you want to do it, goals will remind you about what you’ve decided is important to you. Where is your growth in this role? Why did you except this role? What were you hoping to maximise in your development around this role?

Where Does My Effort Make a Difference – If you’re feeling like you have a lot on your plate, or you feel like you’re not being very successful in getting something done, ask yourself: ‘Where is my effort going to make a difference?’ This question is the key to an Achievement mindset. The great thing about this question is that you’ll instantly know the answer - don’t second guess yourself just move into action.

Remember Everything You do is a Data Point – You can experience frustration when you’re not getting the traction you’re looking for. Reframe the situation for yourself as a chance to test approaches to move the group, and if it doesn’t work then it is a data point to learn from. Reframing the situation keeps you looking at the situation objectively rather than getting sucked into a defensive mindset.  

Keep a Progress Journal – Build in some reflection time at the end of the day. Record what went well, what you would do differently, and what you made progress on. Recognising progress is so important because it can take a while to get projects on track – but you should always be looking to create some progress. It’s not about perfection, it’s about moving forward with small steps and feeling that your effort has made a difference.


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