This is the final post in a series about accountability for sustaining team effectiveness. The first was an overview of the shared responsibility of you, your teammates, and your team leader. The second delved into tips on personal accountability. The third was about helping teammates live up to their commitments. In this final post, I’m putting the heat on the team leader to step up and step in when all else fails.
When is it time for the team leader to step in?
The best teams are ones where the individual members hold themselves accountable for acting in a way that promotes collaboration. For those really strong teams, personal responsibility gets them about 80% of the way to high performance. Even on strong teams, sometimes people fail to live up to their own responsibilities and they risk bringing the team down.
As a team leader, it’s best to let the team members manage individuals who go astray. I wrote about this in a couple of blog posts about how to lead through the team. One was the story of how Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson managed the bad behavior of Scottie Pippen—read it here. The follow up was about how you can implement this self-governing team approach yourself—read it here. Before you jump in, see if you can get the team to manage the bad behavior without you getting directly involved.
Assuming that the team has tried and failed to help the person who is causing the problems, you have a responsibility as the team leader to step in. I know that seems obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of times I have watched team leaders turn a blind eye to aggressive, passive-aggressive, demeaning, or otherwise destructive behavior without doing anything. Not acceptable.
When you need to performance manage poor team behavior:
- Stop reinforcing individual successes. Before doing anything else, check to see if you’re inadvertently reinforcing the rogue behavior by rewarding the person for their results. Are they taking credit for the ideas of others? Are they leaving their teammates in the dust to impress you? If you are rewarding this behavior, it’s no wonder the behavior persists and no wonder the team is unhappy.
- Provide candid and direct feedback about how the person’s behavior is being perceived. Be careful to make the feedback objective (e.g., “when you said ‘I think that’s a totally lame idea’ at our team meeting today”) and then share the impact it had (e.g., “it cut off the discussion and no one else felt comfortable to make comments”).
- Ask open-ended questions and make room for the person to share their intent and to clear up any misperceptions. Remember, you only have one side of the story. Showing that you’re open to hearing the other side will go a long way in building trust. Try “what was your intention in that meeting?” “What were you trying to say?” or “What were you worried about?” Often the answers to these questions will show you that the person had noble intentions, just unsuitable methods.
- Provide coaching on how the person might participate differently. Pointing out the questionable behavior is only the start. You need to help the person find better words and different ways of accomplishing what they were trying to accomplish. “What if next time you tried this…?”
- Find more exmaples. PLEASE don’t make feedback one and done! After the initial discussion, watch and listen carefully to the person to find examples that might help them understand the friction. Provide these new examples in a follow-up conversation. You will have heightened sensitivity, so it won’t take long to see examples of the offending behavior.
- Reassure the team. Find an opportunity to share your concerns about team members not living up to the team’s commitments and reassure the team that you are addressing any issues through your ongoing performance conversations. Don’t mention names, just make it clear to everyone that you notice and you deal with it.
- Escalate as necessary. Don’t be the team leader that ignores bad behavior when the results are good. If the bad behavior persists, make team effectiveness a topic in the official performance management conversation and make sure your feedback has teeth by reflecting concerns in the performance appraisal and any compensation or succession decisions. If it doesn’t get better, make a change.
Too many team members wait for the team leader to address poor behavior on the part of their teammates. That’s unhealthy and breeds a weak team. But in those rare cases where the team has done its best and still been unsuccessful bringing a poor team player in line, it’s your responsibility to step in.
View the rest of the “After the Offsite” series…
Part I: After the Offsite
Part II: Personal Accountability
Part III: Helping Your Teammates