What To Do When Your Teammates Become Dispassionate And Unreliable

Photo by Jay Wennington https://unsplash.com/@jaywennington

Your time is precious. You value it and expect the same from others. Unfortunately, people forget that and need a reminder!

How do you remind them? Well, that’s the question, Jan who reads my newsletter, reached out to ask. Jan wrote:

Hey Poornima,
How’s it going? Looks like you’re writing up a storm! I especially liked your last response to Carla who asked the question: How long does it really take to get an idea off the ground?
I have a slightly different issue, and I’m hoping you can help me with it.
I’m a product manager and I work for an agency that develops apps. We’ve been working with a non-technical founder for the last 18 months. I’ve become extremely close to the app and want it to help the founder launch it.
I’ve been doing all I can to remove roadblocks and keep things moving along. But lately, I’ve noticed that others on my team aren’t doing the same.
The seem to have become dispassionate about the product. They’ve slowed down development, and it’s delaying the launch of the app.
For the past three months, the founder has been asking me for a launch date. I don’t know what to say. I can’t come up with a firm date, because of my teammates stall tactics.
While I don’t want to throw my teammates under the bus, I also don’t want to disrespect the founder.
I also think that even though the founder is non-technical, they are savvy and know that we are stalling.
My concern is that if this continues for too long we’ll lose the contract.
What would you recommend I do in this situation?
Sincerely,
Jan

Why passion for a project wanes over time

Everyone loves the beginning of any project. You get to learn new things. There are endless possibilities of things to create.

The sheer novelty of it intrigues us and fills us with passion and motivation.

Some people love the beginning of a project and want to stay in this phase forever! You’ll know who these folks are by their ability to start things but then have a hard time finishing. The middle to them feels monotonous. Everything is defined, and it can feel like drudgery.

If their assignment doesn’t have all the components they need to keep them motivated they’ll quickly become dispassionate. They may need a project that lets them interact with others, or feel like they are getting challenged daily and learning something new.

Another component is the environment. If they are just told what to do and don’t have a chance to express themselves, they feel like a cog. Or if their work is constantly being criticized, put down, or hijacked by others, they’ll start to distance themselves from the project.

Improving the process around the project is also important. Since Jan mentioned this had been going on for 18 months there are probably some processes that need to be revisited. Like are handoffs between developers and designers happening smoothly? Is someone periodically reviewing and the features that are complete to track progress? Are people making accurate estimates for the time it is taking to complete pieces of the project? How are people notifying one another when they need help or are stuck?

I like to take stock of processes every 3–6 months in a post-mortem. I let everyone air their grievances, and then suggest 1–2 improvements. Then revisit the improvements again in 3–6 months to see if it worked out, and rinse and repeat.

Figure out what works for you and your team. Most importantly don’t be rigid about the process. It needs to be flexible in order to evolved and account for changes to the team and project.

Address their concerns if you can

If someone is exhibiting signs of dispassion it’s important to take them aside and ask what it is about the project that is holding them back from getting things done.

Hopefully they know what they need and can articulate it. If they can’t then have them recall a project that they saw to completion and have them review all the components of it that kept them motivated and moving along.

Give them time to voice their concerns, privately or in the post-mortem like I mentioned above.

Constraints stoke their creativity

Those who are creative love freedom, but that doesn’t mean they can’t handle constraints.

For example, you mentioned not having a deadline or at least a firm one for the client. I’d be curious to know what would happen if you gave your team small and periodic deadlines that led up to a launch date? Maybe they’ll initially balk at the change, and complain if the scope of work seems unrealistic, but they might also rise to the occasion.

You never know until you bring it up!

And speaking of bringing things up, you want to share things like budget constraints, so people are respectful of clients time.

When you shield people they wind up thinking they have infinite resources. Highlighting what the resource limits are, causes people to take notice and learn to work within them.

Remind them of the why

When you’re heads down for too long it’s hard to remember why you are doing the work you are doing.

If the project has a bigger mission start by reminding people why their work and their specific contributions are important and highlight the impact it is going to make.

Often that is the jolt many people need to remind them of why they were initially excited by the project.

Swap people out

While you’ll want to start by giving people the benefit of the doubt with the strategies I’ve outlined above, if someone starts doing more harm than good on a project and is unwilling to accept feedback, then you’ve got to re-evaluate their fit on it.

If they are truly burned out, give them some time off! There is no harm in giving them some time off, reducing their workload, or redistributing to people who are eager to take it on and help. Be clear and communicate your decision to them. Being passive aggressive only causes more dispassion on a team.

Depending on the size of your company, there may be people who are less experienced and looking for an opportunity to learn and contribute. Let them pitch in!

What else would you recommend to Jan? Let me know in the comments below!

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