How great leaders manage underperforming teams

| October 14, 2018

One of the tell-tale signs of a poor leader is their tendency to start casting blame long before things reach a desperate position, instead of understanding the situation and acting to improve it in good time.

They do this simply because, deep down, they know that, for the most part, the failure of the team is their fault. So, by that twisted logic, they assume that if they manage to pin the blame on someone else, they’ll officially be out of the woods.

Great leaders, on the other hand, have the ability to transform even the most unproductive teams into much more than the sum of their parts. Here are several methods that great leaders use to get results while caring for their employees.

Don’t act out of character

Efficient business relationships must be based on trust and familiarity. What this means is that your employees need to get to know you as a person as well as a manager.

Many would be leaders try to act out of character upon their first arrival to the company. They tend to be extra nice or extra firm in order to establish the desired effect.

In the long run, this pretence tends to backfire horribly, complicating the familiarization process and undermining trust and good relations. Be yourself from the first moment you enter the office and you’ll set out to build a much more reliable business relationship.

Don’t overwork employees

If productivity starts to fall as a deadline approaches, a poor leader will start to consider the prospect of prolonging work hours or even cutting breaks short. Needless to say, this tends to make matters even worse as it undermines team morale just at the time they need it most.

If the productivity problem is caused by a lack of motivation or concentration, you’ll just further undermine the team’s commitment and focus with this kind of behavior. A more enlightened leader might turn to techniques such as Pomodoro to revamp productivity and complete the task at hand.  While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes working less can mean getting more done.

Wellbeing should stay a priority

No matter how well they try to hide it, a manager who cares more about the bottom line than their workers’ welfare will burn out employees, rather than make the most of their skills and ability.

Urging workers to cut corners in a physical workplace can lead to injury or worse, while mental stress can mount in an office environment.  An employee who falls sick is the least productive worker of all.

Caring for worker’s welfare boosts the bottom line by reducing time off work and disruption to teams, and avoids expensive settlements or legal action in the worst cases.  Enlightened managers not only follow workers compensation law to the letter but by caring for employees’ welfare, minimise their calls upon it.

Have a personalized approach

Regardless of how big your team is, there’s no justification for not listening to your staff.  All too often minor problems are picked up early by front line workers but are left to fester and grow as their complaints are ignored by management or workers fear passing bad news up the hierarchy lest they be blamed for the problem, rather than rewarded for bringing it to management’s attention.

Find the “emotional vampire”

While this may not always be the case, there’s often one member of a team who brings everyone down. They may avoid shouldering their fair share of the work, demotivating their colleagues, or have a poor or self-centred attitude which poisons the team dynamic.

Many managers swear by the “no idiots” rule, but great managers may be able to notice the problem and bring that employee round through whatever method matches the employee’s personality and circumstances.  Rather than simply firing difficult staff, great managers find a way to turn them into better employees, leveraging their skills and experience for the good of the company, rather than dispensing with it all together.

Such attempts may fail, and must never be used as an excuse for inaction in the face of disruptive personalities, but turning a negative influence into a positive example of change can be the most motivating example of all.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, people work to live, they don’t live to work, and there’s a limit to what one team can do. 10 people might be able to do the work of 20 for a short period of time, but they’ll never be able to do the work of 10,000. Sometimes the problem with your team won’t be their performance, motivation or effort but your unrealistic expectations.

Even the best managers will struggle to succeed in the face of deeply rooted, systemic problems in their organization, but with the right leadership you can make things at least a bit better and motivate your team for a competitive edge.