How To Engage A Disengaged Team

May 12, 2017 1 Min Read


Reflect for a moment on talented people you have seen fail to consistently deliver, step up to a challenge or grab available opportunities.

Are there times when you have struggled to fulfil your potential because you lacked the energy to try? Have you experienced what it feels like to simply lack the desire to do your job?

According to management consulting firm Gallup, 63% of employees worldwide are somewhat totally disengaged; meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort.

Research consistently paints a similar picture of untapped human potential and the consequences for organisations they are attached with.

To put things into perspective, the Corporate Leadership Councils research suggests that engaged organisations grow profits up to three times faster than their competitors.

Talent + behaviour = success

Success takes not only talent but also successful behaviour. Knowledge, skills and experience add little value, unless people choose to apply them effectively.

The standard of contribution people ultimately make, depends on their capabilities and engagement – that is the level of energy they invest and the ways in which they choose to behave.

Behavioural choices reveal the strength of a person’s spirit. When energised, people are more likely to make choices that allow them to effectively apply their talents. When drained of energy, even the most capable and typically motivated person can fail to perform their best.

A lack of focus, avoiding challenges and conflicts, procrastination and a general lack of discipline are some of the common behaviours that drained people bring to their role.

In contrast, energised people are more likely to engage well with their colleagues, strive to achieve outcomes and contribute in ways that enable the team to succeed.


Why people ‘switch off’

While many factors contribute to disengagement, among the most common is that, people simply don’t like their jobs, let alone love it.

Reflect on the aspects of your role that drain your spirit. How do you typically think, feel and behave when drained by your job? Reflect also on what you love doing most, how much time you spend doing those things and the subsequent impact on your spirit and performance.

Understanding the extent to which people enjoy their work – and why – will give you valuable insights to why they behave the way they do and their future potential with your business.

The reality is people are unlikely to thrive in a role or profession that they don’t enjoy. And yet all too often, I meet people who stay on career paths despite having little to no passion for what they do while struggling to perform. These are the people leaders need to switch on or move on.

Begin with the question: Do you love your job?

Ask every member of your team to reflect on the extent to which they love their job. Not just like or tolerate their role, but love it.

The stronger a person’s passion is for their role, the more likely they are to invest energy when striving to succeed. While people can be ‘somewhat engaged’ and contribute to an adequate performance standard, thriving takes passion-fuelled energy.

Ask people to reflect on what they enjoy the most about their job and the things that frustrate or drain them. Understand the amount of time people spend engaged in tasks or interactions that they enjoy versus those they don’t.


Enable clarity

Guide people to gain greater clarity of how they want to contribute through their work. Only with an intimate understanding of the things they love and what they want to achieve, can people begin to make the deliberate choices necessary to turn their career aspirations into reality.

For many people, discovering what they want or what they are passionate about is in itself a major challenge. Guide your team to create a clear view of the role they want to play by first helping them to understand their preferences and strengths.


Plan careers

Understand what needs to change to position people to succeed now and in the future. Explore the paths people want to take and understand how these aspirations align with the future needs of your business.

Reflect on how the talent and culture needs of your business are likely to evolve and the steps people can take to grow with those needs.

This might interest you: Planning Your Career Path: ‘Where Do You Go From Here?’

While it may not be immediately possible to move people to roles they will enjoy, look for opportunities to do that over time.

Career planning is essential to not only develop your people but also keep them with your business. Among the most common reasons people give for joining or leaving an organisation, is the opportunity to learn and progress.


Support transition

Identify the capabilities people need to develop in order to achieve in their current and aspiring roles.
Recognise the specific skills, knowledge or experience required and identify ways in which people can acquire them. Think laterally about development opportunities.

Participating in projects, attending events and supporting more senior colleagues can be valuable ways of advancing the capabilities and enhancing the engagement of your people.

At times, the ideal role for a member of your team lies outside of your organisation. Help people to move on if that is in their best interest. It never serves an organisation well to retain unhappy, unfulfilled people.

Be open, engage in honest and respectful dialogue and bring a cooperative mindset. Working with people and helping them move on will allow you to smoothly transition responsibilities to other team members and minimise adverse impacts to your business.


Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit To get in touch with Karen or send us feedback about this article, e-mail us at

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