Early in their careers, leaders sometimes have to decide whether or not to take on a fixer-upper team. It’s a tall order, even for a leader armed with the fundamentals of leadership. A fixer-upper team is a chronic underperforming unit or a unit in a state of tumultuous decline. A series of major changes are normally required to right the situation or sometimes even a complete redo.
Is This Challenge Really an Opportunity?
There is upside potential in taking on this challenge. Stepping forward and bringing about transformational change marks you as one of the rare leaders known as a change agent.
While taking on such a risk comes with the potential for great reward, many who do so find themselves ill-prepared. Turning around a failing team takes a lot of stamina and fortitude. It also requires a high level of preparation and the development of fundamental leadership skills.
To succeed, you must also be willing to endure a healthy dose of extended discomfort and commit to persevering through situations most others would consider quitting.
When the Tide Turns
Remain relentlessly focused on the fundamental cornerstones of leadership:
- Form and nurture positive relationships
- Analyze, adjust, and create systems that serve the team
- Support the professional growth of each team member, while removing barriers to the entire team’s success
A commitment to these values and actions must be embedded in the culture. But, successful leaders working with a fixer-upper team must also go a step further.
Find out where talent gaps exist by assessing the team’s capacity for growth. In the interest of moving them toward expectations, provide ample time and genuine support to all team members.
Then, identify if there are any team members who are unable to make the needed effort to improve. Parting ways is a difficult decision and one which should be undertaken with great care. But, it’s every bit as important as the decision to bring in new team members.
When a team has undergone the trauma of declining or habitually low performance, hiring a new person into that team requires a delicate touch. Recruiting, onboarding, and beginning to integrate new members must be a top priority while the team is in a mode of large-scale improvement.
New team members bring fresh energy and hope through their lack of connection to the past. But, if left unattended, they can quickly be converted to old behaviors by team members who do not yet share your vision. Or, sometimes new people are viewed as “special” or “favored” by the rest of the team. Remain aware of both potential situations and take actions to avoid them.
Celebrate successes both big and small. Making efforts to serve, advocate, and deliver for your team will begin to turn skepticism into loyalty. These results might not be immediately evident but will have the desired effect over time.
Carry Water, Chop Wood…
It’s exciting for a team when changes begin to have a positive effect. But, a fixer-upper team can still be very fragile in the early stages of success. Experienced teams can weather many difficulties with grit and determination because doing so is part of their culture. Not so, for a fixer-upper team. Even as they experience success, they still need attention, reassurance, and support from their leader.
No task supporting the well-being and growth of a team is beneath a successful leader. What does this look like in practice? It means you have to carry water, chop wood and keep a relentless focus on the fundamentals.
Even after successes pile up and your team members’ confidence begins to grow, continue chopping wood and carrying water. Don’t let up once the tide begins to turn. Remain attuned to the needs of your team, support their growth, invest in relationships, and keep an eye on systems. These efforts must remain at the forefront of your work.
When your team starts believing in their own ability to succeed, encourage them to own their successes. To build a lasting workplace culture and a highly functioning team, you cannot be fully responsible for all ongoing success. Your team must own the process and believe in their efforts and abilities.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired-Up team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired-Up, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.