Get Interested in Disinterest

Keeping your project team engaged takes attention and a little planning.

In Every Town, USA there was a homeowner with a yard. The homeowner, knowing her limitations, hired someone to handle the grass. A monthly arrangement was made and all was right in the world.

The landscaper arrived at roughly the same time on the same day, rain or shine, eachDisinterest week, and did the same routine. He walked the yard, looking for debris or hazards that could be sucked into (and subsequently shot out of) the mower. His machinery purred as he zipped along, methodically, creating nice even rows. Then he walked the property again, weed whacker ready, trimming wayward sprouts the mower left behind and moving displaced objects back to their original spot. The entire operation took 25 minutes, give or take. He worked efficiently and left the meager lawn looking well.

Flash forward four years, same landscaper, same yard, different outcome. He shows up at random times, on random days at random intervals. Now he rides the mower as he inspects on the fly. Occasionally the burping and stammering motor pauses as he gets off and flings the sprinkler into the driveway (not replacing it to its original position of course). Often pebbles and branches are heard tearing up the blades as they get drawn into the machine. There is now a hole in the vinyl siding where a rock was shot threw the mower at the house. He makes an obligatory pass with the whacker leaving the edges largely unattended until they are overgrown and get unceremoniously cut – along with the nearby flowering jasmine and honeysuckle. The process takes 10 minutes. Ok maybe 12.

What happened?

All the outward signs point to a loss of interest in his task. Without a doubt he has the ability to do the job, but appears to be lacking the desire. His motivation to do a great job has disappeared or changed. His ambition to deliver a quality product has dissolved and, consequently, the quality of his work plummeted. The homeowner is thinking that taking over the mowing is a better solution then keeping the landscaper on.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in the workplace. Someone does a bang up job for a period and then slowly the productivity erodes. If the situation goes unchecked the problem grows. It begins with one person but, like a virus, over time the negative impact infiltrates the group. Errors increase, other people get dragged in to help out or correct issues, morale waivers, people leave, deadlines are missed, the quality of deliverables is impaired, projects become at risk. All stemming from disinterest, boredom, and a lack of motivation.

People are complex. We like a certain amount of repetition. It gives us comfort and confidence to do well. However, too much repetition, without new challenges, becomes detrimental. It leads to complacency and monotony and that is an invitation to disinterest. Change is often viewed as a negative but introducing new tasks or objectives is productive change, and that is a good thing.

There is good news and bad news. The Bad news: this will happen, it is inevitable. The Good news: that means you can plan for it. People like to be challenged so let them know how and what they can expect now and in the future to grow their skills and careers. More Good news, you know the warning signs. When you see that shift in quality and engagement something is up, find out what it is. And most importantly, intervene. Do something. This is not an irreparable situation. Find out what is going on and make a productive change.

It’s better to get involved early then do nothing and suddenly find yourself shopping for a John Deere ride on mower.

Reflecting on what motivates you?  Head over to to write it down.

Originally published on August 22, 2011

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