A Different Viewpoint On How to Manage An Under Performing Team

I was having dinner with an old friend recently, and we were talking about some of her challenges at work having taken over an established yet underperforming team.

This isn’t a new situation to my friend as she has a reputation for being able to take underperforming teams and turn them into highly motived and incredibly successful ones. Whilst Jane (not her real name!) relishes the challenge I was reminded that not every manager feels the same and wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could put an end to consistent underperformance right from the start? 

However, if underperformance is a challenge for you, there are some classic strategies for dealing with underperformance that I have written on before here.
In this article though I want to look at this topic in more detail and potentially challenge some of your thinking about the causes and how handling underperformance begins at the start.


Do You Just Have a Team of ‘B’ Players?



Let’s explore the team you have first.

Now I know everyone isn’t a big football fan and just 2 short years ago it was hard to escape the story of Leicester City Football Club winning the English Premier League.  What happened was used as an example across many leadership and management blogs. Why? Because Leicester City demonstrated what is possible. They didn’t have a team of star players yet look what they achieved.


Is it About Mediocrity

When you look at your team, do you see a team full of stars? Probably not. Most teams are made of a variety of individuals including some whose work is ok and could be so much better, yet it’s not yet poor enough to trigger a performance improvement plan.

I have seen a few too many people who get away with doing ‘just enough’.

Why do some team members settle for mediocrity? Is it because they are?  

  • Lacking motivation for their role? 
  • Can’t achieve more due to lack of skills, or knowledge? 
  • Is it about their attitude?

I suggest it’s none of the above. An underperforming team is a mirror for the leader. If anyone is underperforming here, it’s the leader.

Whether there is an issue with settling for mediocrity or you genuinely have a team of ‘B’ players a leader is key to achieving developing a team into a cohesive unit of high performers.  


How Do You Step Up as A Leader?



The goal then is to ‘step’ up as a leader. The good news is that there are many time-tested ways to accomplish this that I want to share three of them now.


Build A Vision and a Purpose

Create a vision that inspires your team and one that they buy into. Something that is stretching without being overwhelming. Involve them in mapping out the plan of how, as a team, you can work together to turn things around.  

Ask your team, ‘Why do you exist as a team?’, ‘What do you do day in day out and what is that really about?’

A colleague once worked with a group of stroke rehabilitation nurses, and their answer initially was: “We work with patients, so they can return home to continue their recovery”. Eventually, they realised what they did every day was “We give people a second chance at life”.  

Now that is more inspiring and powerful wouldn’t you say.  How can you relate what your team do daily to something like this?


Create Team Values and a Culture

Once you have a vision, decide what’s most important to you as a team about how you operate. Choose 3 or 4 values that will underpin how you do your day to day work.

It’s also crucial to create bonding in a team to fully engage everyone. Social time together helps to break down barriers and allows people to build closer relationships and importantly; trust.


Accountability and Responsibility



True leaders who step up are accountable for their actions, and they encourage their team to be the same too. Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader. 

Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take the initiative to influence the outcome. Though this might be uncomfortable to hear accountable and responsible leaders have few underperformance issues in the first place; maybe a lesson for all of us here.

Notice I haven’t talked about skills or knowledge. Let me return briefly to Leicester City. Yes, they trained 5 days a week. Yes, they practised and developed their skills. However, I suggest it was the vision of the manager, the team spirit, the trust, the roles people took in the team and being accountable on the pitch that played the most significant part.

As their success grew, so did their belief which resulted in continuing achievement and commitment to the team. This is what is possible when a leader looks in the mirror, stops blaming the team and takes responsibility for their own performance.  

Could this be you?


Until next time,  

Julia Carter