How to Rescue an Underperforming Team

If you fill a leadership position for any period of time, you’ll eventually run across underperforming teams of people who apparently can’t get their act together. How you deal with such employees will say a lot about your leadership abilities.

Five Ways to Manage an Underperforming Team 

In a perfect world, there would be a one-to-one correlation between potential and realization. You’d hire someone that has great potential and he or she would quickly live up to your expectations.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. And while it might not hurt the company’s bottom line if it occurs in isolation, this can become a substantial issue when you have an entire team of underperformers holding back your business.

An underperforming team mustn’t be ignored. If allowed to fester, this kind of behavior may result in a serious failure that significantly hampers the long-term potential of your department or organization.

You need to be proactive about dealing with an underperforming team so the appropriate corrective actions can be taken. Every situation is unique, of course, but you may find the following tips helpful for rescuing an underperforming team from its march toward disaster. 

  1. Set Clear Goals 

On some teams, you’ll find that people don’t have a clear idea of the goals and objectives. In all honesty, the team might not have any goals at all; they’ve focused entirely on their process.

According to this blog post from Mandel Communications, “When team members lack an understanding of big picture goals, they’re less likely to feel that the individual contributions they make are meaningful or even necessary. And because they don’t understand the impact they’re having, they feel less accountable for their work.”

In terms of goal setting, you should encourage everyone to create both short-term and long-term objectives.

The long-term objectives give the team something to strive for in the future. Short-term objectives serve as checkpoints and offer opportunities for immediate gratification, which is so often missing when goals don’t feel like they’re within reach. 

  1. Identify Unique Strengths and Weaknesses 

Underperforming teams don’t just lack a sense of where they’re going, they also lack a proper understanding of who they are, individually and collectively.

To help your team come to terms with their identity and the unique capabilities they possess or lack, it’s essential to be honest about strengths and weaknesses. Make sure everyone knows where they are proficient as well as lacking.

When done properly, this will encourage and motivate, not puff up or discourage your employees. 

  1. Identify and Discuss Points of Contention 

Specificity is crucial to improve the work of underperforming teams. You need to be blunt about what’s not working and provide insights on why you think they’re coming up short. Getting some performance statistics may work well here and if you’re familiar with the Kanban method, you may be aware of lead time and cycle time.

Both of these will enable you to identify where the problem might lie as explained by Kanbanize in their article “Lead Time vs Cycle Time”. Kanbanize emphasises how monitoring workflow regularly will give you an overview of your team’s capacity and in turn, improve efficiency. Once you’ve got this performance data together, you can address it to your team.

  1. Find a Leader Within the Team 

It’s one thing for you to tell a group of people they’re underperforming and have to improve, but you’ll always be regarded as an outsider or at least a superior. In order to instigate real change, you need to identify a leader within the team … someone they’ll accept as “one of them.” 

  1. Recognize Successes 

Improving an underperforming team is a task that may take weeks, months, or even years to succeed. You need to identify and recognize growth when it happens.

“Don’t leave it till you achieve the final outcome to recognise success — look for, and even plan, milestones along the way,” business strategist Martin Marris writes. “Small positive changes in behaviour, small improvements in results, should be recognized and celebrated. This makes it much more likely that the changes will be repeated and will become part of the new team culture.”

 As you recognize successes, make sure the team realizes that it hasn’t yet arrived. Successes should be celebrated for a brief period only, before everyone’s attention returns to the achievement of longer-term goals. 

Let Your Leadership Evolve

Leadership shouldn’t be stagnant. It’s a soft skill that can be refined, improved, and expanded over time.

When you encounter difficult situations with underperforming teams, combative personalities, and people who don’t respond in an appropriate manner, you’ll be compelled to make tough and uncomfortable choices. But through these friction-filled moments, your leadership will evolve.