Coaching Through Adversity

Managing a team of people is not something for the faint of heart, it can be a grueling, difficult and a deeply stressful experience. As a manager, you have to coach several different people to their strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, each person in your team will have a different communication style and their own way of taking feedback and criticism. For your team (and business) to be successful you need to find a way for all those elements to work together to get the best outcome.

The best managers and leaders in the world understand that to be a great boss you need to first be a great coach. You must understand each team member and their specific needs and tailor your approach to them individually. But where do you start and what are the best ways to create an environment conducive to success? Over the years, I’ve found different approaches that work for managing a team through their struggles.

Here are some of my learnings.

Set Expectations Upfront

As a leader, you will find it almost impossible to manage a successful team if you do not set clear expectations for behaviour, performance, and output up front. When you are onboarding new members you need to make sure that you outline exactly what it is that you want to see from them.

The best approach is to ensure you have all your procedures and policies documented. The more detail you go into with your team members when you are setting the expectations of their role the better. It will be for the benefit of you as their leader and for the team member and their adaptation to their role.

Having regular discussions with your team about the direction you want their output to go in is another great way to continually set expectations. You can do this via one to one discussions, team meetings or at the point you assign them something. The key item here is to ensure that there is no miscommunication in your directions or their understanding of said directions.

Document any Formal Discussions

There will, of course, be times when you need have a discussion with a team member due to a dip in performance. This is another time when expectations need to be reaffirmed and documented. Outlining a clear path for that team member and a formal acceptance of that path will ensure that you are covered should the team member continue to fail in their duties.

Discussions of this kind can have a real emotional element to them. Try to keep a level head, be clear in communication and welcome people another chance to discuss if needed.

If the discussion you have with your team member is part of an ongoing performance issue, it is important that you document that conversation. If a formal warning were provided, there are legal requirements for businesses to follow to ensure that the correct process has been followed. It is always best to seek advice from a qualified human resources specialist if in doubt or you lack one. The last thing you want is a situation where you’re defending yourself against an unfair dismissal claim.

Explain, Ask, Involve & Appreciate

Even if you believe you have been as clear as possible with your expectations and directions, there is always room for miscommunication and misunderstanding. I have developed a four-step approach that helps to address discussions around performance.

  1. The first step is to explain to the team member what the impacts are of the drop in their performance to the business. By highlighting the flow of effects, they are able to see the bigger picture and the consequences of their actions more clearly.
  2. The second step is asking the team member if they require further clarification of the issue. It is incredibly important that you are on the same page as your team member to avoid a repeat of the same situation.
  3. The third step is where I will involve them in the solution to avoiding the same occurrence happening in the future. This can take many different forms depending on what the exact situation was. Involving your team member in the next steps also cements their understanding and demonstrates that are clear on their expectations.
  4. The last step is to show your team member that you appreciate their involvement in the team and their place in the business. Discussions around adversity or low performance are not easy for anyone, you always want to make sure you end that discussion on a positive note. You don’t want your team member to walk away feeling dejected about their continued place in the organisation.

Your business is only as strong as your weakest team member, so supporting them and driving their performance is all a lead should be focused on. Managing your team through adversity and low performance is never easy, but avoiding these situations can put your business at risk. You also provide your team a disservice by not allowing them to reach their full potential. To create a team that is successful you need to highlight areas where performance could be better and then empower your people to make it happen.