15 March 2023 |

5 things bad teams have in common


As I started building a career in leadership, I loved working with people who I knew were underestimated.

I earned a reputation for helping turn around low-performing teams–170% YoY Sales, 40% increase in NPS scores, blah blah blah.

I observed underperforming teams always had 5 things in common:

  • They overcomplicated their jobs
  • They didn’t feel confident making decisions
  • They didn’t understand their individual value
  • They didn’t clarify expectations
  • They didn’t hold people accountable

It drove me crazy hearing leaders talk about all the reasons they couldn’t get performance. These leaders were the people who were in positions of influence–and who should be inspiring others. 

Why were they putting so much effort into making excuses?

I learned there were things I could do that would always result in momentum.

Momentum is everything when you are trying to make change at scale.

  1. Built on strengths
  2. Simplified everything
  3. Gave back decision making power
  4. Clarify Expectations
  5. Hold people accountable

Focus on Strengths

Nobody wants to wake up and be bad at their job for 8 hours. 

When people are underperforming, it is natural for them to doubt their sense of self worth or start questioning whether or not the organization is a right fit for them.

For many people on your team, they may not feel like they bring anything special to the team. As a leader, you can change this by being intentional about recognizing people for the things they do well.

There is a saying that a fish is the last one to know it’s in water. The same is true for our strengths.

When things come natural to us, we can assume that they come naturally to everyone.

For example, an organized person might feel like keeping things organized is easy because it’s always been easy for them. But the truth is for many of us, staying organized feels like a miracle.

When you see someone doing something well, be intentional about calling it out.

“Thanks so much for helping us keep our Notion organized each week. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s a critical piece in helping us execute at a high level.”

Making this effort will encourage your team to use their strengths more often and help them understand how they are contributing to the larger goals of the organization.

Gallup research shows that people who focus on their strengths are 3x as likely to report an excellent quality of life and 6x as likely to be engaged in their jobs.

Keep it Simple

When things seem simple, people will work harder.

Complexity kills momentum. 

As you start turning the ship around, you can get quick momentum by looking for small, impactful changes.

This is challenging, because you probably see hundreds of things that should be changed.

I helped a startup with their two person sales team a couple of years ago. They had a great product, their current customers were happy, and a sales team who had success in other industries. 

But they couldn’t grow.

When things aren’t working, there is often the temptation to rebuild from scratch.

And this is what they wanted to do. 

“We just need to completely rebuild our entire process, this isn’t working.

We looked at their process and uncovered the single most impactful change.

A lot of things were going well, and we recognized these things and encouraged them to continue them.

The change they needed was consistency with tracking their calls to ensure the team stayed on the same page–everyone’s favorite thing to do

By simply ensuring they were tracking who they were calling, what their objections were, and what offers were made, their team saw progress within a week. 

This one small change was the first domino that helped them solve a lot of related downhill issues. 

Give Back the Decisions

Early in my career as a leader, I managed a retail store. 

The team was small, about 17 people in total.

It was made clear to me early that their previous manager felt like they needed to be part of every decision. Anytime there was a problem, no matter how big or small, they would come to me and ask me what they should do.

We were able to break this habit quickly. Every time they brought a problem to me I gave the permission to make a decision back to them.

“What do you think we should do?….I like that. Anything I can do to support you with getting started?”

(The truth is, I was brand new to retail and generally had no idea what they were supposed to do, but this worked out in my favor.)

Giving back decisions is hard to do though, because what happens when people make the wrong decision?

Everyone feels like their situation is unique or especially delicate.

The reality is the risks of owning all of the decisions in your organization are much greater than the risks of letting your team take ownership.

Empowering decision making is a powerful development tool that will increase engagement and give your team a sense of ownership in the success of the company. 

What has helped you turn around performance on team’s you’ve managed?

Clarify Expectations and Hold People Accountable

This email is getting longer than most people have time for, so I’ll keep these last two quick. 

These last two go together like tortillas and cheese.

Everyone on your team needs to have clear expectations of what success looks like in their role. 

Don’t assume people know expectations and deadlines–take time to verify you are both on the same page. Your goal is to set them up for success when you follow up because you want to catch them doing well so you can recognize them for doing a good job. 

ALSO, it’s more challenging to hold people accountable if you have first verified that expectations were clear.

And you have to hold people accountable if you are a leader. Nothing will crush your culture faster than having your all-stars realize they are getting treated the same as the people on your team who are consistently late and missing deadlines.