Reyer: Balancing the needs of strong teams and weak ones

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2013 - 1:17 PM

Q: I oversee two teams; one is high-performing, and the other has some serious challenges. I have to spend most of my time with the team that’s struggling, but don’t want to neglect the strong team. How can I balance this?

A: Be forthright with your teams about how you’ll be spending your time, and prioritize the time you spend with each to get the most benefit.

The inner game

Focus on becoming completely present with whatever you’re doing. If you’re working with one group, be completely engaged with them. Simple, but not easy. Practice by spending time focusing on your breathing, and letting your awareness settle into the current moment. Find time for this every day to help build this capacity.

How closely have you diagnosed the issues for your struggling team? List the specific challenges they face, be they a staffing misalignment, poor processes, interpersonal conflicts or other issues. Each will require different solutions, so it’s important to be clear on the problems. Then consider your options for addressing the situation so you’ll have the resources you need — and will be clear on the limitations you face.

For your high-performing team, do a similar exercise, but with a twist. In this case, focus on the characteristics that lead to their strong performance, paying specific attention to the contributions you make to their success. This will help you prioritize your time with them.

Learn from others, as well. Seek advice from other managers who have successfully navigated through a situation like this, and reflect on similar experiences in your past. Even if it didn’t go well, you can learn from your mistakes.

The outer game

It may seem intuitive to plan first for the problem team, but that can lead to your stronger team just getting the leftovers of your time and energy. Instead, start by building a plan to support the high performers. Outline your ideas, and meet with the manager of that group. While being discreet about the reasons for your limited time, make it clear that their continued success is important to you. Share your thoughts, and ask the manager to weigh in on the most effective things you can do to support them. Then meet with the team to send that message in person.

Now determine the gaps your struggling team needs to close to be successful and the steps you need to take to help them succeed. Again, work through your plan with the team’s manager, recognizing that he or she may be part of the problem. Identify resources you need to help the team succeed; for example, if there is a knowledge gap, work with the corporate group that provides training. And recognize that you may have to make some hard decisions.

Keep track of your performance, looking back each week on whether you’ve given your top performers the support they need. If you find you slip, set up a system with that team’s manager to help keep you accountable.

The last word

Do the right things in the limited time you have, and your stronger team will feel supported and remain successful.

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