Performance Management Blog

Manage Workplace Roadblocks – Prevent Employees from Quitting Before Quitting
Manage Workplace Roadblocks - Prevent Employees from Quitting Before Quitting

One in 3 workers actually love their jobs, according to a recent study by Gallup of the US workforce. These engaged people tend to be the top performers and they act involved and engaged. The middle 50% are “just there,” just putting in time and getting some things done, and they tend to be in the middle as to their performance results. There are also people that are “actively disengaged,” this generally being around 1 in 7in the average workplace.

Many people come dragging into meetings - engage and involve them

The majority of workers are not engaged, and understand that they are choosing to be un-engaged. Why? Many are simply unmotivated or feel like their efforts to engage have been blocked. They perceive they have little control. So what is a manager to do? Managers cannot do anything to change their beliefs. The only way to actually change beliefs is to change behavior. So what can a manager do?

An article from Harvard Business Review suggests that managers are often unequipped to deal with helping their employees who lack motivation. They lack the tools to impact people and performance. Motivation accounts for 40% of the success of team projects. So, how does one impact motivation? One approach is to address the actual issues behind the problem. If they attempt to find out the reason(s) behind an employee’s loss of motivation, they will more easily be able to create a targeted strategy for overcoming it. Some call this coaching.

We want to share a simple tool that does not involve much psychology. We want to talk about sharing a simple model of Roadblock Management, one that involves self-perception and teamwork and peer support. It can involve the sharing of best practices and peer support for performance improvement.

Our focus is on a theme we call Dis-Un-Engagement, one that focuses on the reality of un-engagement and that uses a simple process to remove those factors that people believe are preventing them from accomplishing more. Most people are roadblocked in some ways and by discussing their perceptions and providing everyone with some new ideas and support, those roadblocks can be better managed.

How to Manage Workplace Roadblocks?

While collaborating with people from various fields, we realized that there are 4 kinds of roadblocks that make people feel un-empowered or un-engaged.

  • Type 1: Roadblocks a team cannot handle
  • Type 2: Roadblocks a team can handle
  • Type 3: Personal roadblocks that are addressable
  • Type 4: Imaginary roadblocks that need to disappear

To address the issue at hand, we came up with a straightforward, flexible, and easy-to-facilitate toolkit that engages people in discussing the common things that impede performance and finding better solutions to them. The process of managing these roadblocks by using the simple facilitation toolkit successfully creates Dis-Un-Empowerment and begets loyal employees.

We have detailed an approach, a very simple approach, for better roadblock management and more employee engagement. You may see some coaching concepts here, because getting people to consider alternatives is a good way to drive personal improvement. The idea is for you to present the model of the four different kinds that are common for everyone and to enable people to discuss their perceptions of the roadblocks they face in their workplaces and to enable them to share thoughts on how they may already be managed by some of the top performing or more empowered people. This can generate some peer support for choosing to do things differently.

MANAGE WORKPLACE ROADBLOCKS – TYPE 1: Roadblocks a team cannot handle

A Thick Wall: Beyond Control, Difficult to Change

Some roadblocks are nearly unalterable — there are things facing people that inhibit their performance and that they are not likely to change.  From a senior management perspective, these could be problems such as the effectiveness of a foreign competitor’s product, the slumping national economy or the international exchange rate.

At middle management levels, these might be things such as the organizational structure or departmental problems that make decisions highly political, inappropriate measurement systems that prevent innovation, the funding and paperwork processes for new product development and similar cross-functional or funding issues.

At supervisory or worker levels, these roadblocks are generally those things that are virtually impossible to change. They might be corporate policies, for example.

These Type 1 Roadblocks are all factors that affect performance but are well beyond individual or collective control. Characterize these as thick walls: immovable and real.  Pushing on these is not effective.

How to manage? – Delegate Upwards

Stop pushing on these Type 1 roadblocks. Stop wasting energy complaining about them or trying to fix them. Generally, these are best handled by delegating them upward to people who have more organizational clout. Usually, managers cannot manage these problems effectively at their level.


MANAGE WORKPLACE ROADBLOCKS – TYPE 2: Roadblocks a team can handle

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamworkA Solid Barrier: Rigid, But Movable by a team

Think of these as thick – heavy, but less massive than the Type 1.

This second category of roadblocks includes those that can be managed through effort, time, money, additional personnel or other resources. One person often finds them difficult to manage, but teams of people can generally manage to move this type. In today’s team-based organizations, these are the type most appropriate for team problem-solving and implementation.

An example might be a local workplace practice, an ordering process to get materials, an issue of difference between two departments, the format of a computer-based report, and those kinds of things.

While the individual employee might make some degree of progress in overcoming a specific inhibitor to their performance, often, a small group of employees can make even more progress collectively. And, most importantly, this type of roadblock can be managed, in large part or totally, if supervision or management gets involved.

How to manage? – Solve as a Team

This type of roadblock is characterized as a thin wall: if pushed from the bottom, it might move slightly, but if pushed from a higher level, it will often topple. These are real roadblocks that the employees require assistance to remove. Teams are more often the best barrier pushers. So, believe in one another and work as a team – the concrete barrier will move.


MANAGE WORKPLACE ROADBLOCKS – TYPE 3: Personal roadblocks that are addressable

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamwork Wallpaper or a thin wall: Personal Pre-conceived Notions

The third category is reminiscent of a football game where the home team burst through a paper logo to the cheers of the crowd at the start of the game. Until tested, this roadblock can look impenetrable.

Without perspective, Type 3 is indistinguishable from Types 1 and 2. But, when tested, you find that the roadblock isn’t all that difficult to move.

Workplace examples are common and include the belief that the boss will not approve, that it won’t be supported by another department, that it is “policy” or the way things have always been done, etc.

But people discover that these beliefs aren’t true when they test these perceptions. Others have done things differently and are doing things differently. But unless tested, this roadblock is just as effective in preventing performance as the first two. These are manageable, but also real.

If one is standing in the center and looking at these three roadblocks, it’s difficult to tell them apart. But by moving around a bit and changing your perspective, you can see that differences exist. In part, the exemplary performers seem to do this better than most others — they deal with things appropriately and less emotionally. They are more often the experienced problem solvers who are searching for solutions and opportunities.

How to manage? – Observe and fix it.

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There! Look around and evaluate. Consider different alternatives and potentially different choices in your response to the working environment and note that these same processes can be used in all life situations.

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamwork

MANAGE WORKPLACE ROADBLOCKS – TYPE 4: Imaginary roadblocks that need to disappear

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamworkAn Imaginary Wall of Skepticism and Pessimism

This type of roadblock is the most troubling as well as the most common of the roadblocks. Generally, it represents untested beliefs and perceptions. And real opportunities for improvement come from addressing the Type 3s and 4s.

When the average workgroup is asked to list the things that get in the way of performance, interestingly, it’s these Type 3s and 4s that block most below-average performers from improvement. There are lots of beliefs about the many things that prevent one from delivering customer service, handling documentation, or getting things done from the perspective of the poor performers.

These roadblocks are perceived to exist. They can easily block performance and serve to limit choices. They may reflect the way things used to be under the old system or the old boss, the belief that “violating this norm” is not possible, or other demobilizing beliefs.

How to manage? – Boost the Morale of Both Low and High Performers

First, recognize that there are distinct differences between high and low performers. They perceive things differently and they also use various strategies. Getting a good group process going to share ideas and different working behaviors is a very solid way to approach building your high-performing teams. One key is perspective, if you see things differently, you can make different choices.

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamwork


Far too many people feel road-blocked, unengaged and un-empowered. Peer-supported ownership involvement is a powerful motivator of change. By actively and collectively working to remove the things that people perceive are blocking progress, leadership can generate a real sense of empowerment and engagement.

To manage workplace roadblocks, Type 2s can be managed through teamwork and Type 4s can be prevented from getting in the way. Forming problem-solving teams, focusing on real performance-impeding issues, and involving leadership in problem-solving are some great ways of effective management.

Managers need to make different choices to deal with the issues in their environments that often impair or impede average performers. It is not about job skills; it’s about seeing and making alternative choices! Perspective and Analysis by individuals, work teams and groups of performers can do a lot to build a sense of teamwork and collaboration and help everyone move more, better and faster. Feeling involved and dis-un-engaged is also positive for people and directly relates to an important factor in employee retention.

Discussing their issues and their perceptions goes a long way toward improving engagement. It is one of many possible solutions to improving productivity and performance.

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamwork

Our Managing Workplace Roadblocks Square Wheels Toolkit is a straightforward, flexible, and easy to facilitate set of communications tools. It engages people in discussing the common things that impede performance and finding better solutions to them.

Square Wheels Roadblocks Model for involving and engaging teamwork

For the FUN of It!

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 who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group
Square Wheels images are copyrighted by Performance Management Company


Here is a 2-minute overview of our new online, virtual team building game:

Have FUN out there, for sure. Leave some positive impacts on your people.

Joan Simmerman

Joan has been involved with PMC since 1986 and has enjoyed being part of the creative process of helping to market and support PMC’s products being used and appreciated by people and organizations in over 40 countries and excited about introducing our new virtual tools for team and workplace improvement.

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