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Dysfunction 8 – Passengers

So last week I mentioned that there would be more about being along for the ride but not getting involved, so here it is…

When you go on a journey, a bunch of people jump into a vehicle and assume a role.


  1. Takes control of the vehicle

  2. Accepts the responsibility to take everyone from A to B


  1. Helps the driver to map out the route

  2. Has alternatives in mind in case they hit traffic

Active passenger

  1. Happy to travel from A to B

  2. Suggests activities to do along the way

  3. Starts / joins in with conversations

  4. Passes around the sweets

Passive passenger

  1. Comes along for the ride, indifferent about travelling from A to B

  2. Sits silently and does not get involved

  3. Can often be found gazing out of the window into the distance

Back seat driver

  1. May be nervous, jumpy

  2. Overly eager to judge the driver

  3. May cause friction by undermining / criticising others inside the vehicle

At work we are constantly on journeys.

Some short, some longer. Some take hours, some months. Some are easy, some troublesome. Some you can do on a motorbike, some need a minibus.

If you always have the same driver, navigator and passengers each time then you don’t need to think about it much. Everyone just assumes their position and off you go.

What a bunch of boring bastards.

Take a moment to think about a really good journey you’ve been on. The best road trip you ever had.

What were the ingredients that made it great?

For me it involved doing a bit of driving, some navigating, and also being an active passenger for some of it.

We shared the responsibility. We supported each other and shared the experience together.

We got to learn each others strengths and what roles and level of responsibility individuals were comfortable with.

We ate together, sang songs together, and had fun along the way.

There was also an incident involving a bottle of beer, a funnel and a meerkat that will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I don’t think that’s relevant here.

Anyway – we also learnt that:

  1. Some people are crap at driving. As a result of being too cautious or too reckless they do not take due care of the other people in the vehicle.

  2. Navigating by looking at the map and not out of the window does not work. It’s important to be aware of what is going on around you and react accordingly, rather than following a plan regardless.

  3. Back seat drivers are really f*cking annoying. Like, really, really, really annoying. Really.

  4. Passive passengers may as well not be there. In fact I would rather they weren’t ever there in the first place. They just take up a seat that could be filled better by someone else willing to be actively involved, they are literally a waste of space. They deserve to lose their place and not be invited next time. Will anyone even notice?

A dysfunctional team will have a bunch of the above people all playing their role to a tee. Crap, inconsiderate drivers; critical, judgemental back seat drivers; and the passives just along for the ride but disengaged and unwilling to get involved.

Makes me angry just thinking about it.

On the flip side, a good cross functional team share the work load. Each person probably has a title, but they are not defined or restricted by this. Everyone is willing to take responsibility for something. They demonstrate integrity and support each other along the way.

So there you have it – an analogy to ponder over for the rest of your journey to work this morning, and maybe some of the journeys you take during work too.

Just remember that you choose which vehicles you get into, and you choose the role you take when inside.

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