What to Do About Apathy?

I recently had a perfect Parent’s Weekend at my son’s university. We attended some great activities, including a parent event for a campus organization that my son helps lead.   Everything turned out great, but I watched as these leaders covered for a team member who dropped the ball or waited until the absolute last minute.

Apathy is a team sport. The disengaged team member has a big ripple effect as everyone else tries to cover for the lack of commitment.

As I watched these college leaders scramble behind the scenes to cover, I thought this  won’t be the last time you star in this movie. They will encounter the apathetic team member again – as a boss or a peer. Whatever they learn now, will definitely be used again.

So, what to do? If you are the manager of the apathetic team member, it’s clear that you have to set expectations and resolve one way or the other. But, sometimes you are part of a committee or a group of peers and it’s more complicated.

Here are a few tips that may help in the short term:

  • Address these situations quickly. Be very clear on expectations and the impact to the team of one person not honoring commitments.
  • Set clear, short-term objectives that leave nothing to the imagination. “We need your draft by Monday” and set a time to review with them.
  • Always ask to see their portion before it’s time to share with your boss or others.  Ask to review the presentation two days before you need it.
  • Have a private plan B. Be ready with a contingency just in case.
  • Make sure there is a plan to fix it – including them leaving the group if they don’t change their ways.

The apathetic team member either needs to engineer their own makeover or it’s time for them to go. But, in the meantime, make sure you have a plan to keep your sanity and avoid the last-minute panic to cover work you were confident someone else was doing.

Patti Johnson is the CEO and founder of PeopleResults. Follow her @pattibjohnson or her company @People_Results on Twitter.