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Overboard: Dealing with Those Who Refuse to Pull the Oars

I think that a rowing team is a great metaphor for business teams. You are all in the boat together, and you need all to pull the oars, everyone doing her part. To do your very best work, you need everyone’s efforts to be aligned and synchronized.

But what if someone decides that they aren’t willing to pull the oars?

If someone is unwilling to pull the oars, then the burden is increased on all those who are still in the boat doing the work. It requires far more energy and effort from those still in the boat to move it forward at the same speed. With the unwilling in the boat but not contributing, the team can’t go nearly as fast.

A team that is forced to carry the unwilling can become discouraged. They question why someone unwilling is permitted to occupy the seat without making an effort. They know that the work they are doing isn’t being done to transport and carry the unwilling along with them. Carrying them not only damages results, it also damages their morale, their esprit de corps.

It is the leader’s job to remove the unwilling from the place they occupy. Refusing to do so sends a message that a lack of effort is acceptable. This can destroy teams. A great leader creates and maintains a culture that rejects the unwilling. They maintain a culture where everyone contributes and where everyone makes an effort.

If one is going to sit in the boat, take in the scenery, and prop their feet up while others pull the oars, they need to be removed from the boat. They need to be thrown overboard so that better results can be produced—and for the good of the team.

Once the unwilling’s spot is opened up, it needs to be filled by someone willing to pull the oars.

Questions

What happens to results when the unwilling are allowed not to contribute?

What happens to the morale of the team when the unwilling are permitted to remain on the team?

What is the leader’s responsibility to the team when it comes to the unwilling?

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