How to manage a team that’s getting nowhere

It’s hard to work in a department that isn’t doing well, but being in charge of one is a whole different story.

It’s hard to work in a department that isn’t doing well, but being in charge of one is a whole different story. Here’s how to manage a team that isn’t seeing the best results in the office.

Make sure all employees know what’s expected of them

Art Petty, a leadership and management author, software executive and adjunct professor at DePaul University, writes in The Balance about what he calls “the bottom-line” when managing a team that isn’t doing well.

“Ideally, you should take the time to establish values, clarify roles and define expected behaviors at the beginning of the teaming process. However, if those steps were skipped and your team is not performing acceptably, it is incumbent upon you as the leader or manager to call a timeout and tackle these building blocks of high performance,” he writes.

Show team members what’s in it for them – besides the cash

Amy Gallo, an author, speaker and contributing editor at Harvard Business Review, writes on the site that you should “provide reasonable incentives” when you’re “managing people on a sinking ship.” She features commentary from Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of “Strategies for Learning from Failure.”

“Find ways to reward good work. After all, if the company is failing and employees are going to collect a paycheck anyway, why wouldn’t they spend their last three months on Facebook? ‘It’s the leader’s job to answer the question: What’s in it for me?’ says [Amy] Edmondson. Make clear what they will get if they do their best in this trying time,” Gallo writes in the publication. “Will they learn a skill that will help them find their next job? Will the acquiring company be keeping some staff? How will the experience help them grow professionally? ‘If you can’t find a way to truthfully explain why they should help you get the job done, you’re out of luck,’ says Edmondson.”

Don’t jump to negative conclusions too soon

Give them a fair shot to prove you wrong.

Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog, writes on QuickBase about what to do when you assume a new management job running “a struggling team.” After writing about how you shouldn’t restrict yourself to what you think this team can bring to the table (and how you should aim higher), she offers another tip.

“Don’t judge too quickly. It’s easy to assume that people who haven’t been performing will continue under-performing – and that could very well turn out to be the case. But give people some time to understand your expectations, and some of them may surprise you,” Green writes. “It’s possible that they weren’t given clear expectations in the past, or that the previous manager just had a completely different vision than you did, but that some people could actually thrive with the change you’re bringing. So don’t write people off until you see how they respond to clear expectations from you.”

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.