How To Manage An Underperforming Team

 Mark Wager is an international leadership expert who regularly runs programmes in Fiji. Mark can be contacted at I received a message this week on Facebook from someone who
17 Nov 2018 10:00
How To Manage An Underperforming Team
  •  Mark Wager is an international leadership expert who regularly runs programmes in Fiji. Mark can be contacted at

I received a message this week on Facebook from someone who wanted to know what the most important qualities a leader needs to have when managing a poor performing team.

In this article I will share with you the advice that I gave.


Let me tell you the honest truth about poor performing teams and it may not be what you want to hear but it’s definitely what you need to hear.

The number one reason why teams perform poorly is that they have a leader who is not performing well as a leader.

The only exception is if the leader has just inherited the team yet if the leader has been there for more than a few months then the Leader needs to understand that the low level performance is a reflection of the level of their leadership ability.

All greatness begins with self reflection.

Look at what are you doing which is either encouraging or allowing the team’s poor performance?

Are you rewarding good performance and are you coaching poor performers?

It always starts with the leader.


What is clear to one person is not always clear to someone else.

A leader’s role is to provide clarity so that everyone has the same understanding of what standard of performance is acceptable and what needs to be done in order to reach that standard.

The majority of poor performers don’t believe they are actually doing a bad job, they typically think they are doing a fine job for a Leader that has unrealistic expectations.

A leader needs to define success with such clarity that there’s no mistaking what is good and what is bad. Never assume it’s obvious because I can tell you on behalf of the many hundreds of leaders I’ve coached that it is not.

High expectations

If you want to improve performance then raise the standards. When I talk about raising standards I mean in every area.

Success is a habit so what people do in one area is a reflection of what they do in all areas.

If someone is coming in late to work, they are not dressing well and their desk is a mess, then I see someone who has low expectations and those low expectations are apparent in all areas of their work.

A leader needs to raise the standards required by the team in every area of their work no matter how small it may seem.

A leader needs to make high standards the expectation and not the exception.

Hire slowly, fire quickly

If you can attract good people then a lot of the problems that a leader faces tend to go away.

If you end up with poor performers and you find yourself in a position that no mater how much coaching you provide them with they are never going to reach the standards you require then the worst thing you can do is keep them around longer than they need to be.

This is not good for the team, it’s not good for you and it’s definitely not good for the employee to be in a job that they are failing everyday.

Take your time when recruiting and don’t settle for someone who’s just average because someone who is average now tends to be worse in the future.

When looking at firing people do it quickly, always with respect but the quicker you make this decision the sooner the team will turn around.


A leader needs the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular.

You want people to get along with each other and I imagine you want people to like you because it feels good to be liked.

But there will come a time when the team is underperforming and as a leader you have to ask yourself what is the cost of being popular.

A leader needs to tell people what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear.

A leader needs to ask themselves what they are more concerned about. Is it the happiness of the individuals or is it what the team is aiming to achieve?

This is not about being tough it’s about the leader making it clear that the needs of the team will come before the needs of the individual.

So people should never ask you to chose between the two because you will chose the team.


The journey to manage an underperforming team starts with the leader taking reflection and ends with them taking action.

People tend not to work harder than the leader does so the leader has to work harder than anyone else.

This doesn’t mean longer hours but it does mean seeking the example that others will be encouraged to follow.

Leaders take positive action.

If there is good performance then that performance needs to be rewarded.

It can be something as big as a bonus or as simple as a “thank you” but whatever happens you need to take positive action about good performance just as much, if not more than taking action against poor performance.

It’s not easy Leading an underperforming team but it’s also not easy being an employee who is underperforming.

The truth is that people don’t go to work in order to do a bad job, people want to do a good job they just need to know how and that is the role of the leader.

Show people the way and people will follow. Mark Wager will be in Fiji on February 13 and 14.

If you would like Mark to deliver Leadership training to your team contact him at


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