How to Address Other Teams That Are Underperforming

Departments need to work with each other effectively to succeed


Kayla Ambrose , Fri 12 January 2024
The success of an organization is heavily dependent on the collective performance of its teams. With these cross-functional collaboration dynamics, managers can encounter situations where the underperformance of teams outside of their direct oversight impacts their team's performance. Addressing and rectifying the underperformance of other teams may appear challenging due to the intricacies of organizational dynamics. Through embracing proactive strategies and creating a positive environment, managers can develop mutual support and elevate the organization's performance. 

Identify the Issue 
Determining that an inefficiency stems from the underperformance of another team may be easy, but it may prove difficult to identify the specific issue caused by this underperformance. Gathering data to specifically support observations can help to uncover the root of the issue. Data can be observational data or even the collection of performance metrics for the team/ projects. 

Gathering data can also be conducted through receiving feedback from direct reports. Their sentiments and experiences working in conjunction with the underperforming team may yield important insights that are not reflected in the data. Feedback can be gathered outside of the team as well. It is possible that other teams that collaborate with the underperforming team are experiencing similar issues and may have a different perspective on the situation. Consider gathering as much information as possible to develop a complete understanding of the current problem. 

Communicate with Team Leader 
After gathering information and identifying the issue, communicating with the other team leader is an imperative next step. As a manager of an outside team, no feedback should be given directly to individual team members; any concerns should be directed to the manager of that function. Set up a one-on-one meeting with the other manager and transparently communicate the situation. 

During this conversation, ensure that the productivity concerns are shared in an empathetic manner. Placing blame on the manager will not evoke a productive conversation as it will put them on the defensive. Clearly articulate the data that was collected to demonstrate how the underperformance is impacting the organization and other teams. 

It helps to practice this conversation ahead of time. Having a coach to help practice and guide the conversation can be incredibly helpful in the message sticking. 

This conversation is also an opportunity to collaborate on a mutually beneficial solution. Come prepared with potential resolutions that the other team manager could implement. Recognize that as an outside party, these solutions may not be feasible, so be conscious that the other manager may have a different perspective. 

Setting clear expectations is another key component of communicating underperformance. Articulate key metrics that should be improved and actionable steps the team will take to make these improvements. Implementing changes can take time, so collaborate on a feasible timeline so that these steps can be accomplished. Making numerous drastic changes in a short period could worsen the underperformance. 

Provide Resources 
Recognize that an underperforming team can be incredibly difficult for the other team leader to navigate. As a peer, providing additional support and resources can create a more efficient route to resolution. At the intersection of functions, there may be areas where both teams can improve their processes to streamline performances. 

With many team responsibilities, directly providing support to the other manager may be difficult. Sharing resources such as performance tracking software or external coaching can provide relief without personally assuming responsibility for providing constant support. 

Document Everything 
From the beginning stages of addressing the underperformance of teams, ensure that all information is documented. Specifically, when communicating with the team leader of the underperforming team, it is crucial to create a record. During the conversation, ensure that diligent notes are taken regarding the issue that is communicated, resolution steps, and future expectations. Following the conversation, share the meeting documentation with the other team leader to ensure both parties are on the same page and provide a reference for the future. 

Documentation serves as a record if further steps are required. If collaboration with the other team leader is difficult or the resolution steps are not adhered to, reaching out to upper management may be the next step. Providing this record of previous communication and acknowledged expectations will allow upper management to have a better understanding of the steps previously taken to resolve the issue. 

Reach Out to Upper Management 
The previous strategies are good methods to work towards a solution, however, complications while collaborating on a solution can arise. After valiant efforts to solve the issue don’t prove successful, consider reaching out to upper management. If both managers have exhausted all potential solutions, involving another member of leadership can help to provide a different perspective. 

Another instance that may require upper management involvement is if the other manager has extreme resistance to resolving the solution. Serious efforts should be made to collaborate with the other manager or even encourage them to independently consider strategies to increase performance. However, if they are unwilling to discuss the problem or refuse to make adjustments, involving management may be a more effective step. Using the extensive documentation of all the steps taken to resolve the issues, communicate what the problem is and potential solutions. Articulate that the other manager was contacted and share the records of attempts to resolve the issues with them before deferring to upper management. 

Monitor Progress 
Following the implementation of adjustments, monitor for improvements. Analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) for the underperforming team's responsibilities for improvement can help track the impact of the implemented solutions. Gathering feedback from both teams can also serve as a gauge of the effectiveness of the solution. 

Periodic check-ins with the other manager are another beneficial method for monitoring progress. Dedicating time to discuss the adjustments made and how it has affected both teams will help to make sure both teams are moving in a positive direction. Results from adjustments may not be observed immediately. After some time, if there is little improvement, consider finding an alternative solution. 

Support a Positive Environment 
When improvements occur, recognize and celebrate them. Continued positive reinforcement can motivate the team to sustain these improvements. Making changes can be difficult, so even the small success should be celebrated. Approaching the situation with understanding and a positive attitude will encourage everyone to truly help the team succeed. 

The ability to address and help resolve the underperformance of teams outside of one's oversight is a testament to effective leadership. Communicating, collaborating, and problem-solving can contribute tremendously to overall success. Proactively addressing team underperformance will not only elevate their success but also develop a culture focused on collaborative success. 



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