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The Weakest Link on Teams


The weakest link in the chain is also the strongest. It can break the chain-  Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

It is a scientific fact that if you loop 3 links in a chain, with each link capable of carrying different loads , for example one may carry an 80 lb weight, another 60 lbs and a third 25 lbs, when put to a stress test, the chain would always break at the weakest link.

This has provided a good figurative metaphor to describe many situations in life where a seemingly insignificant and inconsequential overlooked detail can crumble the strongest establishment and  be the unseen cause of defeat for many team efforts – whether on the battlefield, in a family or on a corporate team.

The secret lies in not only being able to correctly identify the team member whose performance is impacting the success of the team, but also in managing  the individual with compassion. Here’s how…

A few years ago, there used to be a  television quiz show program called “The Weakest Link” .  In the show a  team of participants  were asked a series of  general knowledge questions and as long as they answered them correctly, they remained strong.

However as soon as someone answered incorrectly,it brought the score down and the person in question was eliminated by the team and  left with nothing.  This went on until the supposedly “smartest person” was left and walked away with the prize.

I disliked the program which exposed the general lack of knowledge of the average participant , and often the winner was not necessarily the smartest, but just someone who either knew a lot of trivia, but also got the easiest questions. If there has to be a competition it has to be among equals.

What was even worse, was the public humiliation of the person considered the weakest link, and he was forever condemned to the ridicule of his social circle.  Where was the fairness, the justice and the compassion ? There is no entertainment value in seeing one of our own team members fail, and more so, when it is the team itself that rejected him or her. A deplorable lack of true team spirit!

However, as applied to the corporate world ,  the weakest link on a team can have  a fatal impact on the success of a team, project or Corporate Endeavour.

The Weakest Link- Impact on Team Performance   

The most common, yet subtle ways that the weakest link affects team performance are:

1. Missed opportunities for growth
Weak team players reflect inwardly on their own current or past performance or lack of it, instead of future improvement of it. If there are too many  players on a team that are self focused, instead of looking outward at the opportunities for success that present themselves, they are doomed to fail.

The stronger team members are expending more energy in compensating for the shortcomings of the weaker ones. This excess energy is not being channeled towards finding opportunities that could propel them to success.

As a result everyone reaches an overall lower level of performance.

2. Plummeting Team Morale
The stronger team members usually know or think they know who the weakest link on their team is.  Often the weakest link himself or herself  is oblivious to this.

By definition, a strong team member is one who performs his role, carries the weight and is not continually looking for direction and a helping hand from other team members. The weak player is one who does not perform, leans heavily on the support of others without ever pulling his own weight.

As a result, even the most kind hearted ones who stop to help , eventually succumb to resentment and frustration at not being able to get ahead. Team Morale then inevitably subsides.

3.  Decreased Productivity
A strong team can often move faster, get better results quicker and seek, find and capitalize on new opportunities for success if they are not slowed down by the presence of the weakest link on the team.

Managing the Weakest Link

Which brings me to a discussion on how this weakest link should be coached or managed, so that the team can reach its maximum potential.

Undoubtedly with compassion, understanding and care. Consider the following:

1. Are they correctly matched to the expectations of performance for the team?

Just because you have a weak player on the team, does not mean that that player does not have strengths that cannot be used elsewhere.  There may be another place for that team player- just not on that team. Perhaps a different area of the organization, or a  different team or a  different role on the team.

2.  Are they not in the right position on the team?

Often it is not the lack of ability to perform, but which position they operate from that could unlock how they play the game.  Consider a sports team – a person playing poorly on the field might be an excellent goalie!

3.  Are they being pushed to work against their grain?

I have frequently found that pushing a person too far beyond his own operational comfort zone, can not only cause stress, it hampers performance.  Coach individuals according to their strength and  it is liking waving a  magic wand and transforming a dawdler into a superstar!

4. Is the role beyond their Comprehension? 

In jobs that are not well defined, properly mentored and where there has been a clear lack of communication, the hapless individual may simply not know what to do. A perfect opportunity for a leader 9and this could be any individual on the team) to step up to the plate and go into a mentoring/teaching mode to elicit a better performance.

5.  Are they in a role that does not match their skill set?

Many people believe that if a person is teachable they can be taught anything and achieve anything. This can be true, and providing more training will certainly improve their performance, keeping in mind that they should also have a natural inclination for that skill and an intrinsic motivation  to learn.

If doing the above still does not get you the results you want for your team, it would be best to gently let them go!  Do not allow them to make you responsible for their performance, or lack of it. This is up to each individual.

A team exists to produce results and to be effective.  Anyone that interferes with that should be considered the weakest link and be appropriately and compassionately dealt with.

If  this very prevalent challenge to Team Success is ignored, we could be unwittingly sabotaging  the team’s effective performance and Results. What do you think and how would you deal with the weakest link?

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Categories : Team Dynamics


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