My Staff Just Aren’t Cutting It. How To Turn Around A Sluggish Team

Have you ever had that rant in your head, the one where you are certain your staff doesn’t have a working brain between them and they are all incompetent at their jobs?

I’ve coached with three executives that have started with “No one on my staff is taking responsibility; they’re just not very good.” One wisely followed that, with the thought that it could be something she was doing as a manager.

If you are fed up and feel like your team aren’t pulling their weight, here are some questions I use in coaching to help sort out what’s really going on.

Is it really the whole staff?
The initial answer is usually yes, but think again. If I asked which 2 are the most difficult, and of those two which one would you most like to see an improvement in – could you get it down to a couple of people who are problems?

What have you done so far?
“I’ve tried everything” is the natural response so let’s look at two big steps:

First, have you been really clear about what you are expecting? Have you sat down with them to discuss what you want and when you want it? Have you told them what the ideal conclusion would be for you? Do they know that no one else is going to do this, it is totally their responsibility?

Second, have you given them a clean sheet of paper? Are there things that they believe they are stuck with or that they have to work around that might be slowing them down? If so, can you help them understand how to work with what exists or give them permission to start fresh?

Sometimes that is enough to get people moving. We all have different ways we share information, sometimes it’s big picture and sometimes it is specifics. It’s amazing how often what we thought was a clear brief to someone gets lost in translation – even when we speak the same language. For more on this have a look at Myers Briggs can help you communicate.

However, if they are still avoiding a specific project, here’s a progressive approach to try:

Suggest they set aside the time
Specifically ask that they clear an afternoon next week so that they can get the project started (or finished.)

Pair them with a buddy
Offer to have someone with expertise in that area work with them to help them come up with a strategy, plan or way to execute the task.

Offer to help them
Set aside a time that the two of you can sit down together to see how they are coming along and help them move past the area that they are stuck on.

Look for a carrot
What would motivate them? Managers often think its money, a bonus or the possibility of a raise that will motivate someone to excel. Surprisingly, that doesn’t always work. If they are having a difficult time coming up with a plan or building relationships or something else that they find overwhelming, than the lure of cash in the future won’t overcome that issue.

Before you look for a stick
I asked one brilliant CEO how he motivated his kids to do their homework and his process followed closely to the one laid out above. When it came to the punishment he said “Well, you can’t ask your kids to move next door, so I have to be more inventive.”

It’s a good philosophy, threatening to get rid of someone because they are struggling with part of their job is a dramatic step. You may just need to help them understand the consequence of not getting this done, will they lose face, lose authority, lose out on doing other things they enjoy?

And finally, what’s your role in this?
Are they struggling with something you do easily and well? Perhaps this work comes so naturally for you that you haven’t noticed they need training, structure or advice to be able to do it themselves.

Is this something you regularly avoid, dismiss or ignore? If so, they could be following your lead and assuming that if it isn’t important for you to do it, then it isn’t important for them either.

Management is one long learning process throughout your career. What works wonderfully for one staff member may fail the next one completely. Great managers understand that motivating and inspiring is a constant challenge and the more ways you have to go about it, the more likely you can take pride in the accomplishments of your team.

Other posts you might enjoy:
Delegate or Die
Feedback vs Criticism



  1. The last point is very insightful. A smart employee watches what their manager does and doesn’t do. Which leads to the “do what I do” trap… mimicking everything, even if it means doing something poorly. I dodge meetings. Should my team? No.
    Nice point.

    1. Thanks for writing Kathy. Since your expertise is Entrepreneurs, I’m sure you’ve seen more than your share of unusual behaviour at the top. It’s never wise to follow your boss’ lead if he’s throwing furniture.


      Kathy Reeves Consulting Exec Coaching and Myers Briggs 07702-313268 Click for virtual coaching & creative inspiration

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