What should you do when team members are not doing their best?

January 27, 2021 10 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you are in a leadership position, you will need to build a team of diverse personalities and abilities. Even if you fly solo, you may need to work with freelancers or contractors from time to time.

Regardless of your exact situation, if there is a weak link, that can definitely cause bottlenecks and hamper productivity. Even worse? It can hurt morale, as 47% of employees have stated that lazy employees are their main hobby.

Fortunately, there are ways to tackle this situation before it becomes worse.

1. Address the solution before the problem occurs

As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War , “The greatest victory is one that requires no battle.” In other words, make sure this is not a problem on your part when assigning projects. At a minimum, this should include:

  • Knowing your workload. Before assigning anything, check with everyone to make sure they have availability or what their schedules look like.
  • Set clear and specific expectations. To minimize confusion, clearly communicate what you want. Also, check that they are aware of the action items in advance.
  • Eliminating possible obstacles. Ask them if something is preventing them from completing their work. For example, if they use outdated software, make sure it’s up to date.
  • Division of large assignments into smaller ones. “Breaking it down into smaller pieces can help people struggling with procrastination feel a greater sense of urgency and move on in a more timely manner,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders told HBR. Plus, research shows that small earnings help keep employees motivated.
  • Give reasonable deadlines with priorities. It’s 4 p.m. and you ask a team member if they can have a last-minute task for you first thing in the morning. That is unreasonable. Set realistic deadlines and make sure they know which elements to focus on first.

2. Don’t judge quickly

What if you were proactive and followed the steps above, but to no avail? Instead of losing your cool or blasting, go to the root of the problem.

“Instead of assuming they are lazy and a bum, you assume that something is happening in their life that is interfering with their work,” leadership coach and former US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink told CNBC Make It . However, the only way to find out is if you approach them professionally and simply ask them. Preferably, you would do this one on one during a scheduled coffee or lunch break.

Willink also recommends that you ask questions like, “Can I take some of that weight off their shoulders?” You may find that they are not lazy or incompetent. Rather, they are dealing with time management issues or are overwhelmed.

Another reason to do this? “You don’t know where you’re going to end up in two months, in six months,” he says. “Maybe you are the one who is going to need someone to cover you.”

At the same time, don’t let this stop you from neglecting your priorities. If you take on part of their workload, don’t complain. Your mindset should be, “I’m going to keep taking their jobs until I’ve taken their job and I’m going to move on.”

3. Don’t let them interfere with your productivity

I know this is challenging, but ultimately you should focus on your own work and not someone else’s.

While it’s definitely a distraction and frustration, focusing on someone else’s performance will only hamper your own productivity. In fact, it is just a waste of your precious time and energy. As Roy T. Bennett wrote, “You cannot control the behavior of others, but you can always choose how to respond.”

How can you do this when your blood is boiling? Try calming techniques like breathing exercises or meditation. Let your partner carry you and think of solutions, or work from another place so as not to interact directly with them.

4. Offer help

Have you been able to keep your nose on the whetstone? If so, you may be able to help others. Just keep in mind that this does not mean doing their job for them.

One way to provide support is to offer guidance or feedback. It could be something as simple as sharing productivity hacks that work for you, or just lending an ear to listen.

Another suggestion would be to help them with less important tasks. If they are preparing a meeting, you can offer to review or send the agendas. Better yet, you could show them how to prioritize their time.

Be careful not to make this happen on a regular basis, as you don’t want to spoil them. Also, that can prevent you from attending to what you need to do. But if you have time, offer them some help so they can catch up.

5. Apply Brook’s law

Coined by Fred Brook, in his 1975 book, The Mythical Man-Month , this is an observation on software project management. The law states that “when a person is added to a project team and the project is already behind schedule, the project time is longer, rather than shorter.”

For example, if you have 20 people working together on a project, and one person is holding everyone back, you may want to call in reinforcements to help take over. The problem is that not only is it necessary to bring new team members up to speed, but now there is also a communication overload in the team.

What should be the size of your team? There is no conclusive answer. However, Evan Wittenberg, director of Wharton’s Graduate Leadership Program, said it falls “in the range of five to 12, although some say that five to nine is the best, and number six has appeared several times.”

However, “on average, teams with fewer than 10 members have the highest and lowest levels of participation,” notes lead researcher and Gallup author Jim Harter.

6. Rotate responsibilities

While this isn’t always an option, allow your team members to take on new roles. This allows them to pursue interests or passions within your organization. If they fail, it is an opportunity to learn where they went wrong.

However, the most important thing is that they can finally build on their strengths or do something they enjoy. It is also another way to develop new skills. They can even become more empathetic if they spend time in someone else’s shoes.

7. Recognize what motivates them

According to New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, different people respond to the rules. They generally fall into one of four personality types:

  • The Defender is someone who “accepts the rules, either from the outside or from the inside.” They meet deadlines, follow doctor’s orders, and keep a New Years resolution. As such, they react well to schedules and to-do lists.
  • The Interlocutor, as his name implies, “questions the rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They can choose to follow the rules, or not, at their discretion. “They will most likely wake up in the morning thinking about what to do.
  • The rebel is an individual who “disobeys the rules, from outside or from within. They resist control. “If they were given an order,” they will want to do the exact opposite. “
  • The obligor is a person who “accepts external rules, but does not like to adopt self-imposed rules.” With that in mind, they are more focused on what is expected of them.

How can you tell what kind of person they are? The only way is to spend more time alone with them. Once you get to know them better, you can use that to your advantage.

For example, if you are dealing with a “rebel”, barking orders or controlling them is not effective. Instead, you may want to go back a bit to give them autonomy. Sometimes you may have to motivate them with money.

We recently created an annuity program to help our employees save a little more. You are helping them motivate them. Find what works.

8. Learn and grow with your team

Since this will not embarrass anyone, it provides opportunities for the entire team to learn and grow. Some ideas would be for everyone to attend training exercises, seminars, or webinars. As a bonus, this could help everyone on your team develop or reinforce their skills so they can work faster and more efficiently.

Even better? You will give everyone a chance to change their routines so they don’t get caught up in it. You could even create a more engaged and unified team.

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