3 Practical Ways to Prevent Incompetence From Wrecking Your Team

When it comes to work, we all want to be part of a close knit and hardworking team. However, one bad apple can wreck a good team. If your team has been out of sorts lately, you may be to blame.

When a member of the team isn’t carrying his or her weight or just flat out isn’t cutting it, it’s your job as the leader to step in. Otherwise you are sanctioning incompetence. According to Dave Ramsey, author of Entreleadership, sanctioned incompetence in a team is “a disaster waiting to happen.” Dave Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Solutions (formerly The Lampo Group), has been voted one of the best places to work in Nashville seven times, so Dave knows what he’s talking about.

The Pain of Sanctioned Incompetence

When a team member continues to slack off, perform poorly, or simply has a bad attitude, it affects the whole team. If not addressed promptly, other members of the team may think these behaviors are acceptable in your work environment. For example, if Jim is slacking off, Sarah may feel entitled to give less than 100% herself.

“Keep in mind incompetence isn’t evil; we are all incompetent at something.” – Dave Ramsey

My Incompetent Colleague

I experienced this firsthand in an organization several years ago. As a team, we found it difficult to trust another of my colleagues. She said inappropriate things and behaved too informally with our clients. She didn’t respond well to feedback about these things. Before long we didn’t trust her professionalism or ability to carry out projects independently. Ultimately, her presence on the team created more work for the rest of us and we came to resent her for it. The resentment spilled over to our boss for putting up with her laissez faire attitude.

If you aren’t careful, the lowest performer will set the tone for the team. Avoid this leadership pitfall.

Dealing with Incompetence

Once you’ve recognized the incompetence and quantified the behavior, what next? I believe you, as a leader, have 3 courses of action to consider.

1. Lead them well

If the incompetence appears to be laziness or a poor work ethic, perhaps you aren’t leading well. Have you provided clear direction? What goals is this team member working toward? Perhaps the deadlines are too loose. Are you challenging him or her too much or too little? Ensure you are leading this person well.

2. Train them

Is the incompetence a lack of know-how, skills, or poor behavior? Unless this person lied on his or her resume and didn’t meet your hiring requirements, perhaps he or she simply needs some training.

Provide the team member with the opportunities to exceed your expectations and grow as an individual. Does this person need on-the-job training, communication training, customer service skills, or advanced computer skills? Think of opportunities to equip your team member with the tools to be successful.

3. Release them

If the incompetence is beyond good leadership and skills training, it may be time to set the person free to find a more suitable work environment than yours. If the issue is character-based, such as stealing materials (or time) from the business, this is the go-to solution. Get rid of this person as fast as HR can process the paperwork.

Not everyone is going to be a good fit. If you wouldn’t hire them again, as Jim Collins points out, then why keep them around now? Move on. Hire better next time.

Prevent Incompetence From Wrecking Your Team

We all have areas in which we can improve, whether interpersonally, technically, or otherwise. And we should strive for that growth. However, when incompetence goes unchecked on your team, it can become a cancer and drag down the morale, motivation, and productivity of the whole team. It must be addressed. The sooner the better. Consider the 3 options above to keep your team pursuing excellence.

Question: What areas of incompetence have you seen hurt an organization? Share your experience in the comments below. 


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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