What causes disengagement at work?

Take a minute to ponder that question given your own experience: Is it hard work? For most of us, probably not. Pushing hard to complete a project can be motivating (given that your company isn’t in crisis mode 24/7). Nor is it usually about the difficulty of success. Most people don’t become entrepreneurs or join startups looking for the cushiest gig they can get.

So what’s the culprit? According to a lengthy article on the leadership practices of ex-early-Facebook employee and current Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein on First Round Review, it’s generally clarity that teams lack. Rather than the "what" or "how much" of the work that causes trouble, it’s generally the "why"--or the lackthereof.

"I find that, depressingly often, you’ll ask someone why they are working on something, and they don’t know the answer. They’ve totally lost touch," Rosenstein says in the article. "Think about how disheartening this is on both sides."

It’s probably a problem that’s familiar to you from your own working life. Now the question is: Does your team lack clarity and, if so, how can you make sure everyone knows what he or she is working on and why it’s important?

In the course of the in-depth article, Rosenstein offers six questions that, in an ideal world, every member of your organization would be able to answer right now:

  • What are you working on?

  • Are you confident that it’s the most important thing you could be doing?

  • Do you know who is waiting on you?

  • Do you know to whom you can go for support?

  • Do you know how your work fits into the overarching product we’re trying to accomplish?

  • Do you know why that product matters?

Luckily, the gap between ideal and reality isn’t at all unbridgeable in this case. There’s no reason you can’t ask every member of your team to ponder these questions today. Stick them in an email, write them up on a whiteboard, or ask them in a one-on-one chat with that listless previous high performer. Whatever way you get your team members to think about whether they have answers to these questions and come up with responses if any are lacking, the sooner those people will begin to benefit from that all-important intangible, clarity.

If you asked every member of your team the six questions above, could everyone respond?