I’ve never met a leader who doesn’t want their team to be more proactive. Sometimes, it might seem like proactive team members are a rare commodity. I’ve worked with and led many team is my career, and in my experience, proactive team members are heavily shaped by the environment in which they work.
Toxic workplaces have a tendency to stifle proactivity and dampen motivation. However, even relatively functional workplaces can see a lack of proactive team members.
What Are the Key Signs of a Team That is Not Proactive?
Let’s start from the beginning – seeing whether you have a problem in your team! Here are some of the key signs that I notice when dealing with this particular problem.
When team members are more reactive than proactive, they tend to show signs of helplessness. When problems occur, you may notice a shrug of the shoulders and “Oh well, that’s just the way it is.”
Then listen out for “That will never work” or “We tried that before and it didn’t work”.
Do you hear it? That’s the sound of a team that feels helpless.
2. Victim Mindset and the Blame Game
Another key sign that your team members could be suffering from a lack of proactivity is a victim mindset. This is characterised by team members who feel like bad things are being done to them, with no ability to change the situation.
Then, comes the blame.
“They always stuff it up.”
“They never tell us when things have changed.”
“We always have to deal with their mistakes.”
This mindset is closely related to “Everyone else is stupid, except our team.” You can read more about that mindset here.
3. Lack of Open Communication
When your team members aren’t being proactive, you’ll notice that communication declines. Instead of telling you about the problems they are facing, they might just decide to deal with it themselves.
Team members may even do a lot of additional work to get around a problem, rather than communicate it to you.
Why? See point 1…they feel helpless.
How to Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive
One thing I don’t want you to do is to blame your team members. Being proactive is a learned behaviour, and something that is shaped by the team and organisational environment.
You can help them to change their ways!
1. Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive by Showing Them That Improvement Is Possible
One of the biggest things that stifles proactivity is helplessness, and teams feel helpless when they feel they can’t improve their situation.
Choose something small that is bothering the team or causing extra work. It might be something to do with a system you use, or a process you follow. Whatever it is, start small and let your team know that you’re working to improve it and you’ll need their help.
Follow through on your promise and do what you need to do to fix the problem. If you can’t, for whatever reason, choose something else and improve that. You won’t solve every problem, but you certainly can solve some of them.
The idea is that you show your team that positive change can happen.
2. Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive by Asking For and Acting On Feedback
Now that you have shown that positive change can happen, it’s time to ask your team for suggestions to improve the team. Make sure the ideas come from the team, not just from you.
When your team sees that you are interested in what they suggest, and you act upon it, the mindset starts to change. Before, people felt helpless. Now, team members start to see that they have some control over their environment and what happens in the team.
You may notice that your team becomes more vocal about ideas they have and starts working on potential solutions. Embrace it…this is what you want!
Some ideas they bring to you won’t be great. Discuss the suggestions with them, and if you say “No”, explain your reasons clearly and directly.
3. Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive by Aligning Your Stakeholders
Most teams don’t work in isolation. Usually, teams need to interact with other teams to get their jobs done. As such, you can’t expect to improve what happens in your team without engaging with people outside your team.
For changes within your team that require help from others, you’ll need to collaborate. Meet other teams in person and facilitate sessions to solve joint problems. This will start to break down the blame game and the victim mindset, as team members begin to see the other side of the story.
Before long, your team will proactively start engaging with other teams, without needing you to set it up for them.
Gain support for changes in your team from your own boss. Perhaps ask them to be an ambassador, so you have some more senior weight pushing in your direction.
4. Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive by Becoming More Solution Oriented
When you hear your team members griping about a problem, don’t just ignore it. Ask them what they think could be done to help the situation.
This is where the age-old saying comes from… “Bring me solutions, not problems.”
Challenging your team members in this way will help to train them that you want them to think of solutions, rather than just complaining. While venting can be good for the soul, venting that also results in a solution to a problem is golden!
5. Encourage Your Team to Be More Proactive by Rewarding Proactive Behaviour
Many teams like to reward or acknowledge team members who work hard to overcome an unexpected issue.
“He worked all weekend to fix the problem…what a legend!”
While this is worthy of acknowledgement, you shouldn’t overlook team members who avoid unnecessary work by proactively fixing issues, before they become huge problems.
Look for proactive behaviour and openly acknowledge and encourage it. Don’t just be the boss who rewards the reactive fire-fighters in the team.
How have you helped to encourage your team members to be more proactive? Let me know in the comments below!