Getting Your Team Member ‘Back On Track’

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.

Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2022


You will invariably encounter one of your team members under-performing or behaving not as you would have expected or liked.

Whenever this happens, we might take a number of different approaches ranging from confronting them directly through to ignoring it and hope things get better. Most of us as managers would prefer that the person ‘self-correct’ to remove the need for us to have to have an uncomfortable conversation that might affect our relationship or make things worse.

But we know that the vast number of people come to work wanting to do a good job, contribute and perform well. So why do performance or behavioural issues crop up?

There are a number of possible reasons that can contribute to either performance or behavioural problems. Let’s look at the more common ones and ask yourself if your behaviour or performance problem might be caused by one or more of these:

  1. The team member is unaware that what they are doing is causing concern.
  2. Expectations between the manager and the team member are mismatched.
  3. The workload or personal pressures are having downstream effects.
  4. There are problems emanating from other individuals or systems causing your team member’s behaviour or performance.
  5. The team member is disengaged or demotivated.

We suggest that there are others including stress, loss of confidence and other less obvious causes. Ideally we would want to uncover all of the causes before we conclude its caused by ‘#5 disengagement or demotivation’ – which we often hear described as a ‘negative attitude’. These are often the hardest and least likely to fix.

Be proactive

Our approach is to suggest that you intervene early. This is often the last thing a manager wants to do in hopes that what they are seeing is a one-off and self-correction will occur. But often it won’t improve and the longer you leave it, the more difficult confronting it becomes.

So, at the first sign of a behaviour or performance not meeting your expectations, approach the team member and have a seemingly casual, but well planned dialogue.

Why seemingly casual? It’s not in anyone’s interest to formalise this discussion or exaggerate its significance from the beginning. For example, if you hold a separate ‘special’ meeting for this discussion instead of making it part of your regular one on one check-in, it may make the team member feel threatened. And this is likelier to result in an exaggerated and defensive response.

To make it feel more casual, we suggest that you pick up the discussion as part of your regular one on one, and introduce it during a broader discussion of how things are going.

Don’t wing it

To have these conversations we also suggest that you plan ahead, try not to ‘wing it’. Here are some preparation tips we suggest:


Be able to state your concern very clearly and speak about it from your own perspective without casting any judgement. E.g.: ‘Laura, I noticed a rather heated conversation between yourself and a client on the phone yesterday. I am concerned about how that may have come across to the client’.


The mindset that will serve you both best is one where you really want to understand what is going on for the other person. Leave your judgements and any assumptions you are making as to why something is probably happening behind. Come to this meeting with a curious mindset; seek to understand. In order for you to make the most progress, this conversation needs to make the other person feel heard and understood. Invite their response to your perspective. Prepare open questions that you will ask; “How do you see this?”, “ What do you think?”, “How do you think others perceived that?”, “If you were doing it again, what would you do differently?”


You need to be able to describe what you need the person to be able to do instead. What does good, or acceptable performance or behaviour look like? What would you ideally like (or at least settle for). E.g. “Laura, ideally I would prefer to hear you asking more questions to the client, trying to better understand the problem they are having, and acknowledging their frustration”.

We address how best to have these conversations in a number of our leadership programmes.

Sign up for and in depth exploration of how to hold productive ‘Back on Track conversations’.

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