Performance Management Blog

Dis-Un-Engagement and The Lesson of The Monkeys

Ah, the Internet. And StumbleUpon. And Research on behavior. And Creative Genius. I love it when it all comes together…

My curiosity caused me to click on this “Cognitive Science” link on StumbleUpon because it showed the following (copied without permission, but the whole thing is found on the website below, so I think this would be “permitted use” — I will also contact the author directly)

…and the story continues.

The key point is behavior and how it gets started and how it is maintained. The behavior of a group of monkeys is sustained by the organizational culture around it, and not even by any consequence system that still exists. Read the whole thing by clicking on this link – The Lesson of the Monkeys

Jason Wells talks about the concept of filiopietism, or the reverence of forebears or tradition carried to excess, but prefers another term: the tragic circle.

I agree. And while he links the idea to societies, I think that the concept also links to workgroups. There are many such practices in workgroups that get carried on long after the original event. The techs at the car dealership would yell, “What?” when one of them would yell out, “Hey, Stupid!” My guess is that a manager, once upon a time, was calling for one of them and yelled out the phrase and it just got established as a little “reminder ritual” for all of them (including the manager?).

Most people in most workplaces are UN-Engaged. Why? We do not know, precisely, even though we look at it from all different kinds of angles. My take on it is that dis-engagement is caused by something, maybe something that is inadvertent, but it is still a causal factor. And until we address the root cause, it will continue. Nothing will improve and little will change over time.

Sure, one “Senior Corporate Leadership Answer” to the Monkey Problem is to get all NEW monkeys and start all over but that is a costly and difficult solution to implement. Some organizations may actually do that, moving from one place to another to shake things up.

But a simple alternative is to engage them (the people participants) in some discussions about what and why and look for new alternatives that can be implemented or problems that can be addressed that simply reinforce the situation at hand. So, “Yes, we have no bananas” (audio – vocal starts at 1:10, from 1923 (history) ), but we do have people who have a level of commitment to performing.

We need to do some serious Dis-Un-Engagement in the workplace, working with teams to identify the things that are getting in the way of people being engaged and actively removing them from the situation. Doing the precise same things, introducing one new monkey after another, will not make any difference.



For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Ph.D. CPF, CPT is managing partner of PMC and collaborating with the team at PMC LLC, but also sort of retired…

Scott is developer of the incredible Square Wheels® tools and images
and the board game version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at and you can see his profile at LinkedIn



Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

Subscribe to the blog



You may also like