Performance Management Blog

Spectator Sheep – Ideas for dealing with the non-engaged

Here are some ideas for dealing with the non-engaged, on impacting the uninvolved / unengaged, the Spectator Sheep, and some practical ideas for making improvements in the workplace.

This was a post to a facilitators forum I am involved with called FORWARD. We have some interesting discussions and one our internal facilitators asked this:

Looking for some ideas and inspiration from this awesome group of professionals. As I prepare for an upcoming team building workshop, there are 2 individuals inside of this team that have ZERO self awareness. They are self-serving and play the victim (it’s everyone else’s fault) which is one of the root causes of some of the conflict inside the team. I have the luxury of doing multiple sessions, both individual and group. I work in for a municipal government and these are unionized employees I will be working with. What strategies or approaches have you used to manage this dynamic? What suggestions do you have that could help build some emotional intelligence before we start team building? I’d love a fresh perspective. Thanks for you help!

To which I responded:

There are lots of potential drivers of those kinds of behaviors, so do not expect any simple solution. One key is perspective and reflection, another can be peer pressure. DO NOT play psychologist because even those people are not much help given normal workplace dynamics.

One thing that I have done over the years works around the above with my Square Wheels images and the particular metaphor of “Spectator Sheep.” I’ll use the main frame with the normal discussion around issues and opportunities and then add “mud” as an operational metaphor for “the things that make things difficult.” (I might also add silos if that were appropriate to the culture.)

Then, I show the image adding Spectator Sheep. They basically stand around uninvolved and express their view of the world. (Naaaaaaa… Baaaaaaaaa…) Depending on the group, I will sometimes encourage all of them to do that vocalization. They laugh.

Spectator sheep with SWs and mud and the Sheepskin Tiger image

They all can identify with the reality of the metaphor. They sometimes even point to people! And those who act as the Spectator Sheep generally self-identify.

The KEY here, in my view, is the reframe of the Spectator Sheep into people who are distant from the hands-on workplace for some reasons but who often are frustrated because they see unrealized opportunities for improvement. They DO have perspective. They are just unmotivated because they choose to be involved. I reframe to tigers covered with “protective sheepskins.”

If this is a management workshop, I will suggest that the managers try to get their ideas for improvement and put them on work teams to have some active, ownership involvement. They HAVE the cognitive dissonance to be motivated to act, in most situations in my experience. Hell, they will sometimes directly engage with ME to share their ideas if they have that opportunity…

This is more like aikido than confronting resistance. I try to change their choices and their perspectives while adding peer pressure and a “mechanism of choice” to some considered alternatives generated by the group as a whole.

(This is pretty subtle in some ways and somewhat directly confrontational in others. But we change the language of the performance culture a little and people DO remember the metaphor.)


Let me also add that Gallup has published their Global Workplace Survey that focuses heavily on the themes of engagement and the impacts on performance.  It is an outstanding resource with lots of interesting datapoints.

Here is the link:

and there is a 33-minute data overview webinar here:


MY view of the world is that engagement is a really critical aspect of the workplace. The Gallup data shows that people who are engaged are happier and better performers. Do things differently and facilitate around the issues and involve people in the workplace improvements,

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.

Here is a link to a press release about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding exercise and its 30 years of positively impacting people and performance.

He and SimuRise have a global distribution agreement for his Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine exercise to improve distribution and support.

Pricing and terms are subject to change without notice.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a trademark of Performance Management Company
Square Wheels images © Performance Management Company, 1993 – 2023. All rights reserved.



Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- 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.

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