Apathy: indifference, lack of concern, lethargy – that feeling that
people don’t really care about what’s going on.
It might be you who is feeling apathetic or perhaps the people
around you appear apathetic to you. Either way apathy is a major
drag. It drags down enthusiasm and energy, stifles the cooperation
and communication necessary for creativity and high performance,
and it produces stress!
What does the stress fracture apathy look like?
Are people coming late or leaving early? Is there a lack of
attention to detail, to quality? Have people stopped getting
together to work on problems? Are people showing up late for
meetings? Are folks checking their e-devices constantly or carrying
on side conversations during your meetings?
Are you experiencing the feeling “who cares?” or “why bother?” or
“nothing’s going to change around here anyway!” Do you see people
retreating into their department or silo to avoid having to work
with others? The feeling is usually unmistakeable – we know when
we’re in the presence of apathy.
Individual expressions of apathy about the group and its purpose
can fall along a continuum.
a) Some people will withdraw and shutdown. They’ll do the minimum
it takes not to get in trouble; what a client of mine calls
“trolling” rather than working.
b) More high-charging types get increasingly unilateral – they make
their own moves, working around anything in their way. This is
often how silos get entrenched, particularly at the executive
level, and the organization becomes driven by personal motivations
and interests rather than group values and purpose.
c) Still others will become saboteurs. These are the
mischief-makers who indulge in gossip, disruption and subversion.
All of these behaviors have a triple impact 1) hurting individual
and group performance and the bottom line, 2) diminishing wellness
of individuals and the group and 3) contracting the ability of the
group to continue to grow and expand its results.
Apathy has conventionally been treated as an individual or
personality problem. Management applies carrot and stick strategies
to try to entice or coerce the employee into “getting with the
program.” I think there’s a more powerful solution – the cultural
Group Alchemy places responsibility for apathy squarely in the
group – in the culture of the group to be more precise. If apathy
is present in your group there are specific places to work to
develop group habits that chase apathy away and fill that space
with commitment and enthusiasm.
Start with asking whether you have a compelling inspiration
conversation in your group. Have you clearly articulated what you
stand for and your purpose for existing? Are your goals clear and
achievable? This isn’t a product of leadership (“getting buy-in”)
or something that can be handed down by the executive team. This is
where the attention to the individuals in the group is crucial.
Inspiration requires a process for everyone in the group to tie
their personal interests and goals into the collective mission and
Perhaps it’s time for a renewal event to give your group a chance
to revisit and reaffirm what you stand for. Every group needs a
chance to revitalize its core values and mission – even if you
think it’s already clear. Create lots of opportunities to
experience the emotion of it again.
Next you can look at your agreements and goals and ask – “Are we
keeping our word? Do we hold each other accountable to our
agreements?” There’s no better way to create the stress fracture of
apathy than by allowing discrepancies between words and actions to
Look at acknowledgment practices in your group. Are you
acknowledging people for their contributions and how they forward
your mission? And consider whether you have sufficient
opportunities to grow through mastery – learning new performance
skills, moving into a more challenging role, and learning how to
create powerful results will inspire people and dispel apathy.
Each of the elements in the Formula for Group Alchemy® support
enthusiasm and meaningful connection – to purpose and to each
other. If you practice the habits of group alchemy routinely you
won’t have to worry about apathy fracturing your group, your
results or your health.