I've recently been at a number of large events--the first one being Ignite Boulder which was held at Chautauqua Auditorium. I recently attended Word Camp Boulder which was held at the Boulder Theatre. Both were held in large venues that attract crowds. This made them great places for people watching. Given my work in executive coaching and organizational strategy, observing (and commenting on) human behavior is one of my favorite past times. Since both events are pretty crowded there was a scramble for seats. That scramble got me to thinking about how where sit translates to how we act in group settings. Most people have patterns. While it may seem so to the outside observer, we generally act fairly rationally and consistently. There are reasons why we act the way we do and in the case of my above example, why we sit where we do. The more I thought out this phenomena, the more I saw correlations to how people behave in companies. There are generally 3 types of business behavior I've observed.
You've got those people who like to sit right in front. Be it the front row or even a couple of rows back, these are the Enthusiastics. They come to the event to listen, take part and generally take the whole thing pretty seriously. They tend to get there early and stay late. In companies, Enthusiastics are the dedicated employees. The ones who come early and stay late. They ask good questions and strive to use all of their skills. These are the ones who really want to be an active part of the company and be a part of the solution. These are the kind of folks you want in your boat--they'll row along with you.
Then you've got your folks who like to sit smack in the middle of the auditorium. They tend to come right on time or maybe just a smidge late. They like the safety of being lost in the crowd. These are your Middlings. They like to be anonymous. They'll show up, listen and generally use their knowledge to be a productive part of the team. They're the ones who will put in a good effort but may not be your stars. Having your business succeed is important to them but it's not likely the top priority in their life. They may have other projects on the side or have a really full personal life. Having these folks on your boat means they'll show up and get the job without alot of work or effort required on your part.
Finally you've got those who like to sit at the back of the bus. They come in late and generally like to leave early. They're the rowdy ones who heckle you. You'll rarely seem taking the lead. These people are your Disturbers. They're distracted and...they can be distracting to others. They seem to be there to have fun, to criticize or some other reason that's not often productive or connected to the main event. They might not add much value. Or, they might add great value in fits and starts but can also be a disturbing force if not channeled well. Having these folks on your boat can be very dangerous if you have too many of them AND if they're not managed properly. Their lack of effective effort and tendency to be back-seat drivers can just tip the boat over if you're not careful.
I'm no Pollyana. So let's not pretend that you're only going to have a boat full of Enthusiastics and Middlings. There are always going to be Disturbers. And, some Disturbers can actually be effective in the right context and if managed in the right way. So why do Disturbers act that way?
1. Because they don't really want to be there.
2. Because they can.
3. Because they're bored.
If your Disturbers are acting from #1--the answer is simple. Figure out a way to move them along to where they really want to be--stat. This can be to a new position in your company or--outside of it.If your Disturbers are acting this way because you allow them too (#2) then you need to set boundaries and work with them to see if they don't want to be there (get rid of them) or whether they're really just bored (#3). For Disturbers who are bored, work with them. People who are bored often have great untapped reserves of talents that aren't being used. Talk with them. Find out what they think needs to happen and how they can become a part of the solution. If you do this well you may actually be able to transform a Disturber into an Enthusiastic.
You will likely have a mix of all 3 types of employee behavior in your business. In a large business, the Disturbers may not matter much due to sheer size--as long as they're not in positions of influence. However, in a start-up or growing business, their negative influence can be disastrous. Given the potentially destructive force of Disturbers, that's why we focused on them in this post. There are things you can do to enhance the performance of the others--but that's a whole different conversation.
We all have the capacity to any of these 3 types--as an employee or even when we're in a leadership position.
So, what type are you?
Have you ever been a Disturber? If so, why?
As a leader, how do you handle Disturbers?
What do you do about the Middlings?
p.s. In case you're wondering...I'm an Enthusiast.