Hay Group: Tips for boosting underperforming teams

11 September 2014 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

It’s one of the most common issues within organisations – stressed and underperforming teams. For managers, the key question is: how can symptoms of underperforming teams timely be identified and more importantly, how can they effectively be addressed? Sharon Crabtree, Associate Director at Hay Group, walks through three common symptoms and offers suggested cures aimed at re-engaging staff.

Symptom: Your team is unsettled since a restructure has been announced. Rumours of new ways of working are rife. People don’t know what’s expected of them. Sometimes blank faces stare back at you in team meetings. Behaviour varies from 100 questions a minute to dumfounded silence, and sometimes your team simply don’t seem engaged no matter what you do. You get the impression that people are talking and coming to some inaccurate conclusions.

Hay Group - Underperforming Teams

Cure: Create clarity immediately. You need to defuse the situation before it becomes a lethal cocktail. People want to understand about their new roles and how they fit into the bigger picture. The manager needs to take urgent action. They should hold an open team meeting explaining what’s happening and why, warts and all. This should be followed up with individual meetings, one on one with the manager for everyone in the team to air their views and concerns and allow both parties to get clarity on the new roles, perceived difficulties and any other concerns about what people think or feel.

Fundamental to treating this symptom is the creation of clarity. Without this, all other interventions will be superficial. This cure is most effective when people understand the bigger picture and their role/contribution within it. If that detailed role clarity does not exist at the time of announcing the restructure, people just need to understand that as soon as it does it will be shared and that no bad news is being held back.

Symptom: You are working hard to create clarity, however some of your team are clearly demotivated. You notice a variety of behaviours ranging from lack of interest, long lunch breaks, to unhelpful, uncooperative behaviour and silly mistakes are being made causing an unpleasant and unproductive environment. You’re finding it hard to get around your team members and to give them the time, attention and care needed – you have a day job too after all.

Business Team

Cure: Managing this restructure has to be a priority within your day job. A common cause of employee unease during structural change is the lack of clear career progression. You have a job on your hands – as the manager you must define the roles and think flexibly about career paths. Look at the skills and talents of each of your people. Steer them to the roles they will be most suited for. But do this fairly and equitably. Find out from each individual what interests them about the new roles and how they feel they can contribute. Have challenging discussions about how realistically these jobs can be delivered, whether resources need to be moved around and whether additional training and support is needed. Be honest about whether capability can be developed within the team, or if new people will need to come on board. Move people around to meet the organisational needs, but help them to feel connected, valued and motivated – they are vital to getting the job done well.

Symptom: You’ve moved people around. They feel safe knowing what their job is and what good looks like. They can see a future with you. But some members of your team are much busier than others. There is still work to do. Your staff are clear on their roles but are still not operating as a team. Roles are siloed to specific responsibilities.

Cure: Share the load. Once you’ve created an effective structure, you may need to recruit some new roles. Make sure that the key accountabilities are clear and don’t over promise. You now have the opportunity to be flexible in how you allocate work. It’s motivating for people to have a combination of work that needs to be done alongside specific areas of interest – with the important proviso that some work is the sort nobody wants to do! So it needs to be shared out fairly, working towards creating a greater spirit of cooperativeness within the team. Creating this sense of belonging means that people are more likely to see new work as an opportunity to develop their talents, and appreciate the opportunity to work with different people within the team.

Hay Group

Sustainable change

Implementing structural change is hard and stressful work. Don’t forget to celebrate and reward success. Other managers will be suffering from the same stress, and that’s why it’s really important to share your achievements more widely. Talk about what you’ve done and the wins you’ve started to have. This process feels really hard because there is no prescribed formula to dealing with change successfully. However, research shows that regardless of the situation a team is facing – creating a new team, merging with another team, restructuring a team etc – they all require some core conditions for it to function effectively. In simple terms, a manager can’t go wrong if they:

• Create clarity, both in terms of big picture and how individuals fit into this
• Make sure people understand what good looks like and the focus on continuous improvement
• Provide regular feedback and recognition
• Eliminate unnecessary processes and encourage innovation and new ideas
• Help people to feel responsible and accountable for their jobs
• Engender a climate of cooperativeness, pride and trust within the team.

When people enjoy what they’re doing, they will create a more productive environment. And when people are happy, motivated and rewarded – patients will notice too. We’re only human, after all.