What to Do as a Manager When Your Team Falls Apart – Prevent & Cure


First of all, let me define “falling apart”. I’m sure you have a rough idea, but let me be clear. To me a team that is falling apart means unhappy people leaving the team, people that are not motivated to do their job and make sure others are demotivated too, people that constantly complain, people that you see are constantly coming late to work, taking too many breaks, spending too much time on social networks or job portals, people who no longer do their job (but used to) and come up with silly excuses, people who stay home on sick leave too often, who no longer answer their phone after 5 pm, who no longer stay willingly in the office to help finish a team project if the clock is 5.01 pm, who miss team events outside the office, people who seem bored and annoyed around their colleagues, around you or inside the office. Sounds familiar? I’m sure you’ve had that in your team at some point…

Now, what to do?

Well, there are several possibilities depending on the number of team members in that situation – if there’s only one, obviously your team is not falling apart quite yet and the situation can easily be improved. However, if there are several team members involved, you need to rethink your strategy entirely and FAST!

But, before treatment, try prevention:

–          Get to know each team member really well – what their personality is (introverts, extroverts, ambitious, timorous, courageous), what their skills are, what their ambitions and goals are and important as well – get to know their personal life too – their parents, children, problems, hobbies, illnesses, whatever they are willing to share. I know it seems like a lot, but it is worth it. You will get to understand them better and use their skills in an optimum way and at an optimum time;

–          Spend enough time with each team member and the team as a whole – this will make them feel valued and important; get to listen to what they have to say, to their suggestions, reply in a realistic manner and use their ideas if they are good – you may never know who is the one saving your next project;

–          Accept the idea that there may be people in your team better than you. I mean it! Help them develop and support them. You will lose them eventually if you don’t and the image they will spread about you and the company won’t be a nice one. If you support them, they may be replacing you when you get promoted and the company won’t lose a great next manager; you may never know what lies ahead;

–          Do your best to offer your team the resources they need to do their job – knowledge, office supplies, time, whatever necessary. Involve them in the process and they will respect you for trying even if you fail;

–          Roll up your sleeves – don’t just sit there ordering them what to do. If there’s a big project that requires a lot of work that is beneath your level of expertise, but the team has to do overtime to finish it (and you have some spare time), leave the strategic thinking for later and help them. Team members respect their manager if they see that he is working next to them archiving dusty papers.  Don’t be afraid you will fall from your throne! No way! They will just appreciate your effort and it will be great team building for them too;

–          Make people feel important – value their ideas. Read more about ithere;

–          Accept the idea that attrition is good up to a point and that people need to evolve. Don’t panic and run like a headless chicken around the office if someone leaves. The rest of the team will panic too and moreover they will think that you don’t value them as much. Simply organize a team meeting, explain to the team what happened, ask for ideas if necessary to bring things up to normal then continue your work. That’s it!

–          Allow team members to enter your busy strategic world. Offer them information about the company, about what you are doing, about your projects. Let them see as mush as possible of the big picture. This will allow them to better understand their work and their part in the company;

–          Give your team members SMART objectives. And I mean SMART. Don’t just say they are SMART.  Talk to them and make sure they understand what you need the to do. Putting parts of their job description as SMART objectives for the year is stupid and dangerous. Make sure they can measure at all times what their progress is. If an objective you give them can’t be measured in terms of progress, then that’s a non-SMART objective and can demotivate your team member who will struggle to achieve it but won’t see the end in their struggle. Let me give you  an example of a non-SMART objective that I received some time ago from my manager and that annoyed me and demotivated me: “ Have a good work relationship with your colleagues from location B.”. Well, how do you measure that? How many times I traveled there and took them out for lunch?

–          Be honest – don’t lie and don’t promise things you can’t offer; empty promises  will help on the short term, but they will backfire horribly on the medium and long term;

Now, assuming that you did all that and your team is still falling apart, then…

First of all, if there’s only one team member that is obviously demotivated, you need to:

–          Talk to them. This is the first thing to do. Maybe they don’t have the courage to tell you something. Maybe they have a family problem, maybe they did something and are afraid of the consequences, maybe they are overwhelmed with tasks, maybe their best friend in the team is no longer doing his job and they are doing their job too not having the courage to say. I don’t know. Just talk to them. People react strangely sometimes;

–          Try to improve something – maybe the employee needs more resources, maybe you need to change their shift, maybe they have too many tasks or maybe they just need a few days off. Try to help somehow, the employee will expect it after the meeting; don’t implement favorable measures just for the demotivated employee if there’s the case. Extent it for the entire team;

–          Explain the changes to the team – you don’t want more of them getting demotivated. Allow them to understand what happened and why.

If the team is really falling apart, then you need to:

–          Organize a team meeting and encourage the team to tell you about their problems. Try to improve at least of few items during this first meeting if you have the ability and power; they will see you care;

–          Go to upper management with the problem if there’s something you can’t fix – maybe they want higher salaries, maybe there’s a new company on the market offering something more and you could fix it with their help, maybe you need to hire someone new to take some of the tasks the others can no longer handle; come back to your team members with results or at least keep them posted with as much as you can tell them – there may be confidential items you may not say;

–          Keep a close report of leavers – reasons of leaving, duration of stay in the company, positions of leavers, other details you may find useful – this will help you improve the life for the rest;

Tough being a manager, huh? Who said it was easy?  Managers keep teams together and have a difficult job. What else would you add to the lists above?

Take care,