Cleaning House: Identifying and Rooting Out Team Weaknesses

“Over the years, I’ve learned that a confident person doesn’t concentrate or focus on their weaknesses—they maximize their strengths.” –- Joyce Meyer, American speaker and author.

sweepingAs the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This principle applies to business “chains” as well as the mechanical kind—and sometimes I’m surprised to see the weak link high on the chain of command. It was the top execs at oil transport company Enron who ruined that company back in the early 2000s, taking the auditing firm of Arthur Anderson down with them. More recently, Hewlett-Packard canned career exec Leo Apotheker for his poor communications skills and bad choices—including the decision that HP would stop making computers—that put them on the verge of mortally injuring their core business.

No matter how well you run your own team, you’ll have weaknesses that can undermine your strengths. To keep your performance on an even keel, take a little time to discover what they are. Like Joyce Meyer, I believe in maximizing strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses, but at the same time, you should know your weaknesses so you can work around them—and root them out whenever possible.

Sit Down, Take a Look at Yourself

Even if you believe your team weaknesses to be glaringly obvious, set aside some time to conduct an in-depth analysis. You may discover deficiencies in some areas you thought were fine, or at least perceptions on the part of your team members that you have problems in those areas. I recommend the following process.

1. Conduct a classic SWOT analysis. Pretend you’re back in BANA 101 and list out your team’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It needn’t take long, but do put some brain-sweat into it. Dig deeper than the obvious, pull out what you find, and consider it deeply.

2. Consult your team members. As the team lead, you may have different ideas of what constitutes a weakness, so specifically ask your people to contribute their ideas. Sometimes this can work wonders. At Best Buy, leadership has discovered that random teams of floor employees make much more effective sales predictions than executives and professional experts. Why? Because they actually use the products the company sells and have their fingers on the pulse of the youth culture.

3. Put Yourself Under the Microscope. What do you consider your own weaknesses? What do others consider your weaknesses? As the leader of the team, your weaknesses can affect the entire team culture if you don’t rein them in. In the same way Leo Apotheker nearly ruined HP, plenty of other companies, include Kodak, have died because of leadership weaknesses—not just due to bad decisions, but also because of stubborn refusal to reverse those decisions once their flaws became obvious.

4. Keep an eye on the big picture. Do you have happy customers? How’s your productivity rate? Black or red ink on the bottom line? Do your processes work well, or hinder effective productivity? Does your team structure work? How can you be more effective? Keep an eye on the functioning of your team. Don’t ignore the big picture in favor of minor issues, or get caught up in the daily minutiae, even briefly. Look up and around often, to make sure an unexpected change or threat doesn’t run you down.

5. Respond positively to feedback. Don’t blow off criticisms, constructive or otherwise, especially when they come from within. Rather, invite them. When I was the president of the National Speakers Association in 2011, a couple board members privately pulled me aside and gave me tips on how to run the meeting more efficiently, which I really appreciated. When you know where the holes are, you can repair them before your ship sinks. Even if the situation hasn’t reached that point, you can determine where the weak spots lie, and have “emergency patches” ready just in case something blows. Better yet, you can shore up those weak points in advance when time and budget allow.

6. Look at everything. Weaknesses need not be obvious, and may not even look like weaknesses at first glance. Suppose you pride yourself on putting out that great monthly newsletter for your clients each month. Do you know they are reading it and receiving value from it? What would happen if you stopped producing it? The case study in this case is me. After an illness a couple years ago, I didn’t produce my monthly newsletter one month, and only three people noticed. A little investigation revealed that my clients thought my newsletter was informative but too lengthy, and all they wanted was a brief tip weekly. Suddenly, I found a weakness I replaced with something more profitable.

7. Remain objective. Consider my example above. Even though your team does a bang-up job on certain tasks, they can still represent a waste of time and effort, which translates to a waste of money. Don’t keep doing it just because you’re proud of it and it makes you look good. If a project does nothing to profit your team and organization, grit your teeth and can it.

Stay on Point

Once you’ve conducted your SWOT exercise and otherwise examined team performance, you may find you have little or nothing to worry about. Great! But that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Keep an eye on not just where you are and where you’ve been, but where you expect to be in the near future. Complacency can kill you as quickly as outright incompetence.