Managing an Underperforming Team
It’s no surprise that a company will only ever be as strong as the people in it. Strong teams that collaborate, communicate and possess a strong drive and passion can help propel the company to new levels of growth and success. However, an underperforming team can have quite the opposite effect, not only decreasing productivity and profitability, but also the overall morale and company culture. And while leaders know this, it’s not as if they can just go clean house, especially today, when competition for talent in the market is fierce. So, what can they do? They can do what highly effective leaders always do—face the challenge head-on and learn how to manage it.
Leading an underperforming team can be complicated, to say the least. Whether it’s a team you’ve been working with for a while or you’ve just been brought on as a new lead, the threat of failure lurks just beyond every individual mistake, instance of poor communication, or strained relationship. But don’t throw in the towel just yet (would we really ever do that?). Here are a few tips to help turn your lackluster team into something that shines. Take a deep breath, walk in with a positive attitude, and commit to making clear-headed decisions, not reactive ones.
1. Start Small
The desire to get in there and make big changes will likely be compelling. However, rushing to judgment like this will only push team members further away—from you, from each other, and from the company. The more effective approach is to start small by listening, observing, and collecting as much information about what is going on with the team as possible. Get a better understanding of where the problems are, so that you can address them one at a time.
2. Provide a Safe Place
With all that we’ve been through, people are still struggling. And often, they are doing so silently. In fact, they may not even realize how much it is affecting their work. Provide your team members with a safe space to give feedback and voice their professional grievances or even personal issues (we all know they don’t stay outside the office door). Try to pick up patterns and pinpoint weaknesses, so that you can help redirect them on a more productive path. You can also promote a greater sense of unity and collective purpose by co-creating goals with your team that everyone can work toward together.
3. Don’t Forget Other Leaders
While weaknesses may be obvious among your entry- or mid-level team members, are they as clear with regard to your managers? Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. Take some time to explore how your management could be improved upon. If there was any criticism in your team’s feedback, take it seriously. Getting defensive does nothing but hurt the entire team. Think about what adjusting to their criticism would look like and what you are able to implement with your current management. You may also want to look into leadership training or coaching to help your managers understand their role more thoroughly and work better with the team.
4. Know When to Make Tough Decisions
A team could be underperforming for a wide variety of reasons. However, if performance does not improve after some time and effort, it may be time to consider going your separate ways. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it just isn’t the right fit. And prolonging a bad relationship will only make it worse in the end. Be aware that terminating a team member can be a heavy blow to team morale in the here and now, but the long-term benefits will more than make up for it.
There’s no doubt that an underperforming team can be frustrating, creating its own unique set of challenges. With these tips and remembering that you can handle this responsibility, your team will rise to the challenge with you.
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