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Think you have a problem with your Team? Ask 4 questions first

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Group of people sitting at conference room at work having a discussion

When things are going wrong and your team isn’t doing or performing as you want, it’s easy to assume that you have a “people problem.” That you’ve got the wrong people on your team and hiring new, better people will fix these problems.

As I'm sure you know, recruiting, hiring and firing are expensive and a huge drain of resources. So, before you decide to go down this route ask yourself these four questions. Remember: you hired these people, you trained them, managed them, set the tone and culture, so are they really the problem?

Question 1: Do my team know what’s required of them and how their performances will be assessed?

Group of co-workers looking at engaged as they watch presentation in conference room

If your people don’t have complete and clear understandings of what’s expected from them, they will inevitably fail, at least in your eyes. Check things like job descriptions and job aids to ensure that they are clear and unambiguous. This doesn’t mean that employees need only perform tasks that are formally detailed in these guides, but all key tasks must be described adequately.

Ask yourself if your employees understand how they will be measured and if these measures are easily available to them and ensure that they are reasonable. Finally, check if the written guides are still current. As your business evolves what you need from your people will change. This is perfectly normal, but it’s not reasonable for the current requirements to be largely unspoken while your employees are guided by outdated documents.

If your team doesn’t have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, fix this issue first. If this isn’t an issue, move on to Question 2.

Questions 2: Are your systems effective?

Man at office studying stats and data on multiple computer screens

In other words, are your systems designed to support optimal and error free performance? Look for tasks that are manual, but which could be automated as well as gaps and duplication in effort (such as two people being assigned to wash cars while it’s nobody’s job to dry them).

If there are hand-offs between different people, are they managed effectively? For example if you run a blog, how does the person responsible for uploading content know that final versions are finished and ready to be published? Check to see that systems are effectively documented with some form of Ops Manual or SOP Guide.

Effective systems are critical and if you don’t have these in place, look no further. Otherwise, move on to the next question.

Question 3: Are external motivations getting in the way?

3 co-workers smiling while seated at desks

Sales is often the classic example. Sales people are rewarded for sales and if you are not careful, they will sign-up anyone, including those who are not a good fit for your service. Then you end up with dissatisfied clients who damage your reputation and create heavy burdens on your customer service systems. It’s not that external (or extrinsic) motivators are inherently bad, or though they are always less powerful than intrinsic or internal ones, but they can easily be in conflict with the wider goals of the organization.

What is certain, is that extrinsic motivators are always inherently selfish and result in team members focusing on their own needs rather than those of the business or its customers. If you recognize this to be an issue, the best solution is to design the system to reward your people in a more intrinsic way, so that they get greater satisfaction and joy from doing the job well rather than simply as a means to getting a reward.

If you don’t see external motivations as a conflict than go on to Question 4.

Question 4 - Do your team have the knowledge and skills to get the job done well?

co-workers huddled at table while working on project

If certain employees seem better able to get the job done than others or some members of your team wouldn’t be able to do the job well, even with a gun pointed at their heads, it’s likely you have problems with knowledge or skills.

If your employees are expected to have this knowledge or these skills on the first day on the job, then you have a hiring problem. While you may need to hire new people, you mustn’t do so until you have overhauled and improved your hiring processes.

If the knowledge or skills are ones you would expect employees to learn after they were hired, you have a training and development problem.

Finally, and only after you have answered yes to all four questions, can you say that you have a problem with your people. I will add that in almost 40 years as a manager and consultant, I have never encountered an organization that has got 4 yes’s, at least, not honestly.

In other words, you almost certainly don’t have a problem with your people, it’s probably you that’s the problem.

Remember that to truly understand your challenges, you have to engage the members of your team. Talk to them and ask them the 4 questions. You’ll usually get a much clearer picture from those who actually do the work than from your relatively remote position. If you find out that your answers vary wildly from the answers from your team, you probably need to take a long look in the mirror, however unpleasant that may be!

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