AAEE News and Blog Posts


Treating Employees Like Spectators Won’t Build a Team

31 Oct 2019 11:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Paul Berggren

There’s nothing as harmful to the success of a company than employees who sit on the sideline, too disengaged or intimated to contribute.

How do you overcome this problem and create a culture where everyone feels comfortable contributing?

If you lead a team where employees seem hesitant to collaborate and share their thoughts, it’s time to take a deeper look at why this is happening and how to overcome it.

They fire the coach first.

If a sports team consistently underperforms, one big loss after another, team owners might adjust the lineup or find new starters. But more often than not, they start by firing the coach.

If your employees are acting like spectators, disengaged, and non-collaborative, it’s easy to point fingers. But what if your employees aren’t the root of the problem?

The ultimate responsibility for team engagement falls on the leader.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to develop your culture and employees. If you’re struggling to build an engaged team, you might need to take a hard look at your expectations, processes, and leadership.

How do you own your role and use it to create engaged, collaborative employees? It starts by defining your purpose.

Define your purpose as a leader.

Is your purpose as a leader to manage the process or coach your team? If your goal is to help people get better, you will act differently than if your main focus is to get things done. Managers focus on accomplishing tasks; leaders focus on helping their team use their strengths to multiply productivity. While all leaders must also be good managers, not all managers are good leaders.

Ask yourself: What is my purpose as a leader? Do I live that out every day?

Talk less and ask more questions.

Good leaders ask questions. Poor managers make statements. If you want to collaborate but already have your final solution in mind, you’ll miss the opportunity to get feedback and improve the idea while earning the trust of your team.

It takes humility to realize you might not have all the answers. By asking questions and really listening to employees, you’ll have better ideas and have a more engaged, collaborative environment. But if you aren’t willing to change your strategy based on their feedback, you’re missing the mark.

A few questions to ask:

-       What do we need to do?

-       How does this relate to our goal?

-       What’s the root cause of this issue?

-       How can we get where we want to go?

-       Tell me more about your idea.

A coach brings out the talent of their team, challenging them and helping them grow. Act as a coach and lead your team toward collaboration by listening first, then asking good questions.

Pick your star players.

The next step to building an engaged team is looking at your current employees. Who on your team not only believes in collaboration but does it well? They should be your benchmark or “star player” as you look to hire and develop more employees.

For example, if Joe in HR is always asking questions, encouraging feedback, and building rapport with other team members, how can you empower him to continue and then hire more people like Joe? Take the time to ask questions about his thought process. What does Joe value in his work that makes him collaborate? What does he avoid that keeps him open to feedback?

Identify what makes someone a star player for your team and look for more people with the same mindset and motivation.

A game plan is useless without players.

You can invest heavily in your game plan and create the best process to accomplish your goals, but process strength alone isn’t enough to succeed. If you see people as a pawn in the game, hindering you from running the perfect play, you will end up overlooking their strengths.

A game plan is pointless without the team to run the plays. To bring out the best in your team, you have to know them and their strengths. Ask yourself:

  1. Do I know my employees’ strengths and interests?
  2. Where do they excel?
  3. Where do they struggle?
  4. If there is a gap in their skills, how do I help them fill that gap?

Many managers focus their time and energy on process strength. While it’s an essential component, your team will be discouraged and disengaged if your focus is entirely on the process. Additionally, your organization will only be “getting by” instead of excelling. You might feel like you have momentum, but it’s slow compared to what it could be.


Invest in the strength of both your processes and your people, and you will see your company excel and reap the benefits.

Get people off the sideline.

By investing in both processes and people, you can work to get your team off the sideline and out on the field. It starts with how you make decisions.

Bring employees into the planning process before a final decision is made and the process is set.  If you don’t, people will become disengaged, realizing that their opinion doesn’t truly matter.

Take it a step deeper and encourage your team to build a collaborative culture together. What matters to your team and organization? Where do you want to be in five or ten years? What roadblocks will keep you from reaching those goals?

Build a team instead of an organization full of spectators. Include people in all stages of the decision-making process.  Build a safe environment where employees are encouraged to offer their opinions. You’ll be rewarded with a team that’s fully engaged and wants to succeed.


-       Paul Berggren is President of Crown Global HR, bringing clarity to the complex world of hiring, based in Lincoln, NE.  paul@CrownGlobalHR.com



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