Many of the day-to-day questions that our clients have involve how to handle situations that arise in working with team members. Here’s one of our frequently asked questions and our guidance on how to handle it.

One of the leadership team members is not meeting their commitments to the team. How do we handle this?

I’d ask myself a few questions.

  • What are the operating agreements you have in place with your team? Operating agreements define how we will work together and one of them should be what do we do when a team member is not meeting expectations.
  • What is the frequency of the missed commitments? Is it a one-time thing or is it occurring frequently?
  • Is missing commitments happening with one person only, or is it a wider trend?

If you don’t have established operating agreements for how the team will handle situations like these, I would set them as soon as you can. Spelling out how the team will address non-performance makes it easy if it occurs. A typical operating agreement will be “when commitments are made, team members take responsibility for meeting those commitments. In the event the team member is unable to meet the commitment, it is his/her responsibility to alert the team or affected manager and discuss when the commitment will be made.” Another practice during a team or one-on-one meeting is at the end of the meeting when commitments have been made to ask, “Is there anything that might get in the way of you getting this task completed by the time you’ve committed to? Typically, the person will say, “No,” but you can follow up and say, “Well if something does, let me know as soon as you know.”

If the missed commitment is a one-time occurrence, yet the team member did not alert the individual affected, that individual should send a quick email stating, “Hey, I’m looking for your response to [x]. When can I expect it?” When the response is provided, the individual might send an email that says, “Thanks for this. Hey, next time can you let me know if you need extra time or won’t meet the deadline we discussed? Thanks!” This does two things – it reminds the team member of the team agreement, and it addresses the performance issue right away. It is important to give feedback and make requests in close proximity to the event. If you wait until it happens a few times, the impacted individual will have growing frustration and the interaction may escalate unnecessarily.

If missing commitments becomes a frequent event for someone on the team, it is always best to start with the impacted manager going directly to that team member and having a one-on-one conversation. If the whole team is impacted, then the team leader would have the conversation. It might sound like this:

“Bill, I am noticing a trend, and I’d like to check in with you about it. There have been several instances (be prepared to give examples) where you have missed a deadline, and our team agreement is that if any of us are going to miss a deadline we committed to, we let the impacted manager or the team know. I haven’t seen a message like that from you and each of the deadlines that were missed is now putting the team behind. Help me understand what’s going on for you?”

You first want to give the team member a chance to state his/her side of the situation. There may be legitimate reasons, but the behavior you need to get agreement on, regardless of the reason, is that the team member will 1) commit to realistic deadlines and meet them and/or 2) if the deadline cannot be met, will let the impacted individual know of the delay and provide a date when it will be met. The conversation may sound like this:

“I can appreciate that you have these things going on for you, and I hope you can see how that’s impact me (or the team is). It is important that you follow through on the agreement we have – if you aren’t going to meet a deadline let me/us know, and tell us when we will get your response (etc.) and more importantly, when I/we are asking you to commit to something, be realistic and give us a commitment you can make. Can you agree to that?

“I’m confident you’ll put in place what is needed to make sure you meet future commitments. I don’t anticipate that we’ll need to address this again, but if we do, the team (or I) will need to have a more serious discussion with you. You’ve got this!”

It is always important to hear what is going on for the non-performer. Hearing his/her perspective enables you to understand the team member’s mindset and challenges. You may hear lots of excuses or blaming other people. You may hear that a personal issue is impacting their ability to meet commitments (and you didn’t know that), or you may hear that he/she is struggling due to a lack of training, time management, knowledge or expertise and needs help. You can engage in a conversation that helps the team member figure out how to solve his/her challenge yet stay focused on the goal – getting a commitment from the individual to change his/her behavior.

Note that you stated a consequence if the behavior continues. It is important to state your confidence in the team member’s ability to change and it is also important to state a next step if the behavior doesn’t change.

One last thing, if it makes sense, set up a follow-up meeting with the team member to check in on how s/he is doing. Better yet, when the team member does the agreed upon behaviors, send an immediate email thanking him/her for doing the behavior. This is Psychology 101 – reinforce the behavior you want, and you’ll get more of it!

We’d love to answer some of your questions in future Tips. Send us any questions you’d like us to offer our thoughts on here. Look for our response in an upcoming Tip. At any time, though, if you need some guidance right away, reach out to us via email or phone. We are only one phone call away!

Theresa Gale