What should you do if you’re managing an underperforming team and receive a problematic performance review? It can feel like you’re on an island, writes the author of this piece. She offers advice for what to do next. First, it’s important to realize you’re not alone. Check in with mentors or other leaders and peers you respect and ask: “If your team underperformed and you got a bad review, what would your next move be?” You should also ask for more clarity and support from your manager. When you’re clear-headed, email and set up a follow-up meeting. Create space for your manager to give you more feedback. And remind your manager why you’re the right person to fix the group. Remember that your boss is extremely busy and may not spend time recognizing things that are going well; remind your manager of the positives in an authentic, meaningful way.
A number of factors can contribute to a team’s lackluster performance: individual mistakes, strained interpersonal dynamics, a lack of communication between the leader and team members, or some combination of all of these. If your team is underperforming and your manager is pushing for a turnaround, you may feel at a loss — especially if you feel like you’ve already been giving the team your all. Here’s what to do if you’re responsible for a team whose work has been deemed not up to par.
Realize you’re not in this alone.
If you’re managing an underperforming team and receive a problematic review, you may feel like you’re on an island — but you’re not. It’s time to enlist help. First, elicit support from your peers by asking for advice regarding what they’ve done with underperforming teams. Second, look outside the organization for guidance. Check in with mentors or other leaders and peers you respect and ask: “If your team underperformed and you got a bad review, what would your next move be?”
Accept the feedback with a caveat.
While you may feel defensive and angry about the feedback because you were evaluated on factors outside your control, recognize that you are accountable for the team and their actions or inaction. Accept the input: acknowledge that now is the time for renewed effort and a better plan. Being defensive won’t help matters.
Moving forward, ask your manager for support for your team wherever necessary. In addition, focus on your strengths. Ensure you’re highlighting what is going right in conversations with your manager. Remind your manager why you’re the right person to fix the group. Remember that your boss is extremely busy and may not spend time recognizing things that are going well; remind your manager of the positives in an authentic, meaningful way.
Don’t spiral with negative thoughts.
It can be easy to get caught up in the narrative of self-blame, thinking that you should have turned things around more quickly. But ruminating won’t help transform the situation. First, consider what you can control: then make an action plan and move forward.
Ask for more clarity and support from your manager.
Remember: You aren’t in this alone. If you feel embarrassed or defensive about your review, take a beat and then consider: “What do I need from my manager?” When your head is clear, email and schedule a follow-up meeting. Create space for your manager to give you feedback in person or over video call rather than over email or Slack; that way, you can pay attention to nonverbal communication, like body language. Also, asking for help face-to-face will take you further because it’ll be more challenging for your manager to say no or punt off the request.
Take a fresh look at your leadership style.
After your review, assess how you can shift your leadership. Ask yourself these questions:
- How is the current way I’m leading the team working? If I need to make a shift, what would that look like?
- How am I holding each team member accountable for specific deliverables?
- Am I being transparent with leadership as to the seriousness of the situation?
Co-create a team goal.
Don’t let your team off the hook and take on the full burden for the group’s success yourself. When the team makes mistakes, it’s your responsibility to address them and help the team move forward. But it’s just as important to proactively co-create goals with your team members. Try this: in individual status meetings, ask each person to come prepared to discuss their goals and how they’re tracking toward them. As the team leader, ask yourself:
- Have I explicitly shared feedback so that each team member knows where they need to focus?
- Have I shared how I’d like to see goals developed and written?
- How will I keep on top of each team member?
As you’re setting goals, you as leader will need to be even more hands-on. Don’t leave anything to chance; overcommunicate and meet regularly, especially as a group.
Think about your future.
While it’s easy to get completely wrapped up in the teams’ development and how you will help them perform better, you must also think about yourself. Your manager may only care about you achieving a successful turnaround. To keep moving forward in your career, co-create individual goals with your manager. Your renewed focus on your own performance can only help the team. Carve out 30 minutes a week and keep a standing meeting with your manager so you can have the space to think about your goals moving forward.
It’s frustrating and challenging when your team is underperforming, especially if you’ve been coaching and pushing them to meet their goals. Trust that you can handle the responsibility of turning things around. Examine your leadership style, overcommunicate, and work toward collaborative solutions with your team members; remember that you’re not alone. Make sure you’re focusing on your goals, too.