What to do when the team doesn’t deliver

What to do when the team doesn’t deliver

Defining what you want, and what you expect, is the (sometimes difficult) first step toward achieving expectations


Many leaders believe that holding workers accountable is the key to getting the results they want

Many leaders believe that holding workers accountable is the key to getting the results they want


I was working with a chief executive who was frustrated because his team often failed to meet deadlines. When I asked why he thought that was, he said it was because they were lazy.

When I asked the team why they were often late, they said that the culture of the organisation was built around quality. They were told that mistakes are not an option. They were so afraid to mess up that they strived for perfection instead of progress.

The boss believed he was holding his team accountable. However, he had not clearly communicated that meeting deadlines was just as important as producing quality work.

Many leaders believe that holding workers accountable is the key to getting the results they want. But there’s one problem with this: sometimes we get frustrated with people for not meeting our expectations, yet we have never communicated those expectation are in the first place.

Of course, first you have to know how to define what you want. This is often the most difficult step.

Define success

To figure out what you really want your employee to do, ask yourself what you want the end product to look like. How would you define success?

For example, if you need something immediately, avoid terms such as “ASAP” or “when you get a chance.” Instead, you might ask: “Are there any other barriers or competing priorities that will prevent you from meeting a 10am deadline?”

Since we tend to resist what we do not choose, leaders also need to get employees involved in defining expectations. Get them together to brainstorm what an ideal staff member would look like: team player, self-motivated, positive, etc.

Once you have the list, narrow it down to a handful of characteristics and define them. Get specific.

For example, you and your team may define “positive” by the following behavioural expectations: open-minded to new ideas, solution-oriented, or always greets customers with a smile. Define the specific behaviours you want.

Be aware that we may assign different meanings to words. You might want your employees to act with integrity, but that can mean different things to different people. One employee infers that he or she should not gossip or spread rumours, while another thinks it means following through on promises. Getting clear about expectations means that everyone is on the same page.

Finally, ensure that employees have gotten the message. Simply asking, “Do you understand?” is not ensuring understanding. Whether you ask the person to paraphrase, summarise, or re-explain, it is helpful to hear the other person reflect what they heard to make sure you are on the same page.

No one wants to look like they don’t get it, so in an effort to save face, they smile and nod in agreement. Instead of asking, “Do you understand?”, try saying, “Walk me through what you’re going to do.”

Two steps

If you’ve done all of this and your team still isn’t delivering the results you want, try taking these two steps:

Explain what you do want, rather than what you don’t. For instance, your co-worker might get frustrated that you don’t respond to urgent emails fast enough. Rather than saying, Stop emailing about urgent issues” try, “When an issue is urgent, I would really appreciate it if you could call me or stop by my desk”.

Reward the positive and coach the negative: remember that people repeat behaviour that gets attention.

If your expectations are met, make sure you say thank you or show appreciation. If your expectations are not met, before assuming the person intentionally disappointed you, make sure you communicated what you wanted clearly. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015)

Anne Grady is the author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love and Work


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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