Do you hear complaints from colleagues about their staff not taking the initiative? Do you have a team that just doesn’t seem to have any initiative? Or do you just want to know how to get people to take the initiative? If only they would do what is obvious to you – life would be so much easier. Being able to take the initiative is an essential skill or attitude for virtual team members. So in this blogpost, I talk about how to help your team to feel confident in taking the initiative.

How to get people to take the initiative? Is it you who is the problem?

We get the team we deserve. Harsh but fair. For example:

  • Do you reward good behaviour, or simply moan about the poor parts?
  • Do you praise people for taking initiative, even if it didn’t turn out in the way they hoped?
  • When they come to you and ask for help with their problems, do you solve the problems for them?

If you want your team to show some more “get up and go”, then you need to recognise that you are probably at the root of the problem:

  • It’s easy to think your team welcomes the freedom to take initiative, simply because you do! But, this passion to contribute conflicts with a natural instinct to protect ourselves against things like failure, rejection, embarrassment, or retaliation. Some people see more danger in taking initiative than there are benefits. The way you act (and the “company culture”) will directly influence this.
  • Individuals who are driven by the fear of failure often struggle to take the initiative. This is because they want to just excel in their comfort zone. Taking the initiative can often be seen as taking them out of their comfort zone.
  • It can be easy to assume that somebody is lazy or no good because they don’t take initiative. If you’ve created, fostered or simply not removed any fear that they have; it’s as much (if not more) your fault than theirs. Read 7 ways to make sure your remote employees are actually working.

Here are five ways to help your team to start taking the initiative.

1. Look out for times when people in your team are taking initiative

Then comment positively on it. If you want to see the behaviour again you need to notice and thank them when they do something that needed to be done without being asked.

2. Make it clear that you want and need your team to take initiative

Your behaviour may hide that fact, or worse still be in contradiction to this. It’s not just about the words you say, it’s the way you say them and the way you act. But ensure you say that that you want them to take initiative. If there are limits beyond which you don’t want them to go, explain them clearly. But that means anything they do, which is sensible within those limits should be praised.

3. Do not focus on mistakes

Look for the intent and think about learning. Criticism will only cause compliance with rules, no extra thinking and resentment. If they did something that was silly, discuss the thought process with them and help them to learn. Simply criticising the outcome will stop them from trying again. It doesn’t mean you can’t correct them, but look at the input, not the output.

4. When they come and ask for help,  focus on training

Unfortunately, that’s the very time when it’s easiest to tell them what to do. Instead, help them to explore the problem or suggest a couple of possible things they could do; encourage the thinking process and use the opportunity to coach them, rather than tell them.

5. Think about how the team act together

It’s no good focusing on one person in the team and expecting them to act differently. Help them all along this journey of discovery, yes it takes time but the results can be worthwhile. The tendency always will be for the team to set the norm, that’s how peer pressure works, so you need to focus on the team not an individual, don’t let your team drag people down. Read 7 tips to build a team you can trust and rely on.

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