When a team works to achieve a desired result, but the outcome falls short of expectations, people may tend to point fingers. But while the post-mortem may help prevent future failures, it’s still a reactive approach; by being proactive, you could look for the weakest link in a team based on signals of stress or high risk, and take these measures to address the problem before it impacts the collective result.
Consider the whole system
For a physical system it can be quite easy to spot the weakest link. Visually, you can see which part of a chain is bearing the heaviest load. In Australia, food and beverage processors commonly use stainless pipe and fittings; these joints are subject to stress and leaking when a traditional welding process is used, and can be the system component most in need of better reinforcement.
Teams of people are harder to evaluate, partly due to personal bias. Subconsciously, you might feel more positively about a person whose characteristics or conduct align closely with yours. It’s necessary to be objective and consider the big picture. Who has been assigned key tasks or is unaccustomed to greater responsibility? Think about the possible consequences of each individual’s failure to deliver. Where the risk of failure is high, and the adverse impact is critical, that is the area where the weakest link lies and that’s where you’d best start looking more closely, regardless of personal opinion.
Evaluate performance versus potential
Unlike physical components, human beings can fluctuate or be volatile in terms of performance. We aren’t manufactured in a plant according to specifications. The ideal professional is an employee who delivers consistently – in terms of initiative, effort, and attitude – day in, day out. But as you gain more experience in any industry, you’ll find that such people are difficult to come by.
If you’ve identified the likely weakest link in a team, consider their performance and potential. Use available data to inform your decision. Have they shown in the past that they are capable of doing better? Perhaps new factors are affecting their performance, and adjustments can be made to bring them back to a high level. But if their potential is limited, or their past patterns demonstrate inconsistency, then it may be a bad decision to assign them complex tasks when you know that they will struggle to deliver.
Handle the situation appropriately
Effective coaching is often the best way to fix potential weak links in a team. Before you sit down for a one-on-one with an employee, have a clear goal in mind; if you believe they can improve, know the root cause that’s limiting their performance and find out how to address it. If you don’t think they can handle their current role, have a new task in mind and get their buy-in.
Keep in mind that it’s possible the employee simply might not be capable of delivering on expectations. Everyone matures differently, and career aspirations may come and go; people can also go through crises or experience health issues, for instance. Be considerate and tactful; no one likes to be called out, let alone identified as the team’s weakest link. Remember that sometimes both management and recruitment can do a better job of hiring someone who has the requisite skill, work ethic, and culture fit to succeed.
Spotting the weakest link in a team can help you proactively address issues and prevent failure in a collective effort. Use these steps to analyze the individual level as well as the whole, and find the right approach to formulating a solution.