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Managers also to blame for poor team performance

When teams are not performing well, many managers believe the cause is the poor performers under them. That might be partially true, but from my experience, most managers are also a major source of the problem. Here are common mistakes made by managers:

1. Recruiting people who have different values than the team norms.
2. Doing a poor job of "onboarding" or helping newcomers adapt to a new organisational culture.
3. Not giving feedback during the first two months on the job.
4. Not spending enough time with people during their probation.
5. Not giving recognition when people do the right things.
6. Not giving feedback when people do things wrong.
7. Not supporting performers facing challenges.
8. Not discussing individual development plans.

The first four items above relate to the recruitment and early days of performers. "At most companies, people spend 2% of their time recruiting and 75% managing their recruiting mistakes," Claudio Fernandez-Arroz observed in his book It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best. If you have a chance to recruit new people for your team, here are some tips to minimise the first four mistakes.

1. Recruiting people who have different values: The solution starts with identifying your team norms. Ask yourself: "How do we work well together?" "What kind of values do we share?" Then, come up with a list of 5-7 team norms or values. Use them as a guideline to screen the prospective new members. Try to involve more team members in the interview process. Let them observe and offer feedback about candidates who represent the best "culture fit".

2. Doing a poor job of "onboarding": A manager needs to take an active role in the orientation of a newcomer -- don't rely on the HR department's induction programme alone. On day one, you need to educate the new member about the organisation's vision, mission, values and team norms. In addition, assign someone as a helper, guide and mentor to help the newcomer adjust. A good helper will accompany the newcomer to lunch during the first few days. This will build confidence and a sense of belonging.

3. No feedback during the first two months: A manager needs to keep track of the new team member. How well is she adjusting? What is her preferred learning style? What are her strengths and weaknesses? If possible, provide feedback -- the sooner the better, but no later than the end of the first month. At the end of the second month, discuss her progress and work on any challenging issues that you've identified.

4. Not spending enough time with people during their probation: As the end of the probation period nears, if you are certain that someone has not measured up -- even after receiving ample feedback -- do not let that person pass probation. Some managers allow unqualified people to pass probation because they have a heavy workload and simply don't want to deal with something that can be a difficult experience for both parties. That's a big mistake.

It's difficult when you're short a person to do the job. But it's worse when you have an unqualified person doing the job, because ultimately there will be more mistakes to fix as part of your workload. Be firm with people you have to let go. You are doing them a favour because they may be able to move on to jobs for which they are better suited. Many of high-profile successful people at some point in their careers were terminated from roles that didn't fit them.

Now let's move on to items 5, 6 and 7: Not giving recognition when people do the right things; not giving feedback when people do things wrong; not supporting performers facing challenges. These three items have the same solution: one-on-one meetings.

Great managers should spend 20 to 30 minutes per week with each direct report. If you have too many people to deal with in one week, consider such meetings every two weeks. In each session, ask:

- What went well this week? How did you do that?
- What could you have done differently? What did you learn?
- What challenges are you facing now? How do you plan to overcome them? How may I help you?
- What else do you want to share with me?

8. Not discussing individual development plans: Every three or six months, talk with each of your direct reports individually. Ask them:

- Where do you want to be in three years?
- What are the skills required for that role?
- Which skills do you want to develop based on the work you're doing now?
- Which ones do you want me to coach or mentor you on?
- Which ones do you want to attend training for in the near future?

Most great managers spend at least 30-40% of their time on all of the above activities, and the result is usually engaged, motivated and high-performing teams.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at