How to fix a broken team

Poor performance and disengagement by employees are always a result of the manager’s actions. 

Ineffective managers have:

Three to four times as many people who “quietly quit.”

Less than a third of the employees willing to go the extra effort. 

The good news! It is pretty easy to turn things around once you understand why bad teams are bad, how to build momentum and get things turned around.

Few things will help you establish your brand as an effective leader quicker than showing YOU can consistently turn around a low-performing team.

It is a big deal.

And if your team is struggling now, know that it is okay. Leadership is a lifelong learning process. We all deal with teams who stretch us to our limits–and make us wonder what a career as a solo entrepreneur would look like. 

It’s natural to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and insecure. Nobody is perfect. 

We are all a work in progress. Growth is as uncomfortable as it is gratifying, and as you get better, so will everyone on your team.

So let’s get better.

Why are bad teams bad?

Bad team’s have disengaged employees.

Disengaged employees are the employees who do just enough to not get fired.

And nothing has a more significant impact on an employee’s engagement than their relationship with their direct manager. 

Employees don’t start as disengaged–people are generally excited when they get a new job. But they will start to check out if we don’t take time to nurture and invest in them. 

I’ve worked with hundreds of managers in my career. On low-performing teams, this is what happens to the employees:

  • Their ideas get rejected
  • Their feedback gets ignored
  • Their development is neglected
  • Poor performance is normalized

These things are all avoidable. 

So why do these things happen?

Let’s dive into each. I want you to understand why each happens and what you can do about it.

Their Ideas Get Rejected

I’ve yet to work with a leader whose team struggles because they give away too much decision-making power.

In his book Joy, Inc., Richard Sheridan talks about how a big part of building his company culture came from letting his team “Run the Experiment!”

Leadership is not about having the best ideas. It is about bringing out the best in others, and we do this by investing in the ideas of others.

When you become the leader who defaults to no, your team will quickly learn to stop sharing–in fear of being rejected. This leads to disengagement and a lack of innovation. 

When you instead take the time to invest in the ideas of others, you have a team who feels valued and has the opportunity to learn by getting the experience of bringing things to life. Plus, they are more bought into the success of the team because they want to see their ideas become successful.

🕶Under the Lens:

Create space for ideation by getting curious and challenging your team to think critically.

Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • Can you explain the idea in more detail?
  • What problems do you see this idea solving?
  • Who do you see benefiting most from this idea?
  • What resources would be needed to bring this to life?
  • Help me see how this is aligned with our team’s goals?

Have the conversation and challenge yourself to think about how to help them bring it to life. 

If your team isn’t bringing you ideas, get used to asking, “What do you think we should do?” whenever they bring you a problem.

You want a team of problem solvers, not a team who only brings you problems to solve.

Their Feedback Gets Ignored

Leadership is listening. When you ignore your team’s feedback, don’t be surprised when they stop sharing it.

This is what happens on a lot of teams:

Stage 1: Boss says, “I love feedback.”

Stage 2: The team gives the boss feedback. Boss gets defensive and explains why the feedback is incorrect.

Stage 3: The team stops giving boss feedback.

Stage 4: The boss isn’t hearing feedback and thinks everything is going great. “Mission Accomplished! LFG!”

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t give feedback:

  • Want to avoid conflict
  • Concerned about retaliation
  • Don’t care enough to make the effort
  • Don’t want to waste their breath because they know their boss won’t listen

The goal is not to make changes every time you get feedback immediately. Instead, be curious enough to listen and understand the feedback. 

Develop this habit:

In the moment, just listen and say thank you. Give yourself time to process before deciding on the next steps. 

Their Development Gets Neglected

The gift and curse of leading a good team is that as your people find success, they will have new opportunities presented to them. Sometimes this will be within your organization, and sometimes it won’t be. 

It hurts investing in people who end up leaving your team. But it’s much worse not to develop your people and have them stay. 

🕶Under the Lens:

Take time quarterly to ask your team about their career goals. It’s a simple way to show them you are invested in their success. You might have people on your team who have NEVER had someone invest in their long-term success. 

Once you understand where they want to be, help them work backward and think about the skills and relationships they need to help them get where they are going.

  • Be specific in how projects in their current role will help them develop the skills needed for where they are headed.
  • Look for stretch assignments that will allow them to use their strengths in new ways. 

Poor Performance is Normalized

As a leader, you can’t let doing a good job and a bad job feel the same.

To get things turned around, start focusing on results to recognize progress, build on strengths, and recommend small changes that will have a significant impact.

Make thriving the only option.

  • Recognize the small wins with gratitude that is unexpected and specific. 
  • Be urgent with feedback to help fill the gaps. 

Before I Go

Don’t fall into the trap of believing a motivational speech will fix anything. 

Bad teams have trust issues, and they are used to people reminding them of everything they are doing wrong. 

Use your time in front of the group to talk about the vision, the plan, and what is working.  You need them to know you care about them personally and there is a clear path to success.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.

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