By Larry Little

The team was made up of rock stars in it’s industry. From all accounts, they should have been an extremely high-performing and successful group; they should have been plowing through projects and accomplishing goals left and right, and yet… they weren’t. In fact, they were failing. Their strategic relationships were deteriorating within the group as well as with their external partners, and their goals were going unmet. Simply put, they were underperforming.

As a leader, how do you handle this situation? Do you take a “tough-love” approach and push your team harder to get back on track and resume progress? Do you use incentives and rewards to motivate and encourage them to keep, or do you use threats of consequences if they can’t meet their goals with the risk of creating unhealthy conflict? Or do you give them a break, ease up on the pressure, and ask them to pause and rest before moving forward? In an ever-changing business environment with quick turn-arounds and hard deadlines, it’s risky to halt progress and lose any momentum you might have going. It’s also risky to push your team so hard that they burn-out, continue to underperform, and possibly even leave your organization.

Every team is different and there is no definitive, one-size-fits-all solution to motivating an underperforming team. However, I can say with certainty that leading your team blindly without stopping to understand their unique dynamics, can cost you time, energy, and production, and will ultimately lead to confusion and frustration for you and your team members.

Knowing when to slow down and regroup and when to push forward is absolutely vital if you’re going to lead a team to success. When my one of my clients is faced with this kind of dilemma, I encourage him or her to take a step back and look at the personality of each individual on the team. A tool that I use for this is something that I call the “Team DNA”. Just as your genetic DNA is a unique combination of molecules, the DNA of your team is a unique combination of personalities. Each team member’s personality can be plotted onto the “Team DNA Graph” based on how they are motivated, how they tend to process information, how they express themselves, and how they engage in relationships. The graphs vertical axis has “people-driven” on one end and “task-driven” on the other, and its horizontal axis has “introverts” on one end and “extroverts” on the other. Some members will be more motivated by tasks and accomplishments, while others will be motivated by building relationships and receiving praise. Some team members will express themselves outwardly and loudly (extroverts), and the will process information internally and quietly (introverts). Some will engage and connect with you quickly, while others may need some time to get to know you before they are willing to allow you to lead them.

Based on this kind of information, we can plot each personality into a quadrant on the “Team DNA” graph. Once you understand what kind of personalities you have on your team, you can make the best decisions around how to lead them to stop under-performing and start achieving goals.

If your workforce consists mostly of highly task-driven extroverts, then you probably need to focus on slowing down to re-focus, and assure that the quality of their work is remaining high. If your team is primarily made up of relationship-driven introverts, then you will want to create strong deadlines with accountability, and increase your channels and frequency of communication with your team.

Taking the time to interpret and understand their DNA will help you know how to lead them out of a slump and towards performing with excellence. You will know whether or not you need to increase communication, develop stronger metrics, stop and evaluate quality, invest time into building trust, or provide a clearer vision. Knowing the DNA of your group can truly help you to lead them to be the high-performing team that they are capable of being.

The leader of the team I mentioned earlier went through the process of discovering her team’s DNA. She took time to discover their personality dynamics, and why they seemed to be floundering and self-destructing. Once she understood how she could better lead her team based on their DNA, she created a strategy that targeted the gaps and problem areas for her team, and in short time their performance was once again soaring.

A leader who chooses to identify and understand her team’s DNA, and lead them from that understanding, will make a difference in her team and for her organization.

Dr. Larry Little is a seasoned entrepreneur, author, speaker, and executive coach. As the founder and CEO of Eagle Center for Leadership, he walks with leaders around the world, empowering them to improve their leadership of their people and their organization. Author of the book Make A Difference, Dr. Little has helped tens of thousands of people improve their personal and professional leadership by harnessing the power of relationships. @LarryDLittle.