What Happens When You Recognize A Poor Team Player

Someone brought up a topic I have heard many times before in a presentation I gave this week.

How do you handle recognizing team members when there is a “rotten apple” of a team member on the team? You know what they’re talking about. They’re referring to the poor performer who is not pulling their weight on the team. Yet, they get included in the positive acknowledgments when the project is done.

The bottom-line? They don’t deserve the recognition lauded on the entire team.

What I valued in this exchange with one of the presentation participants, was hearing their side from such an experience.

They gave the first reflection below and I have added my perceptions afterward. See if you can relate to how they felt.

1. Deflates recognition. They stated that recognizing a poor performer on a team essentially deflates or discounts the recognition expression given to everyone else.

2. Affects judgment. When a supervisor or manager recognizes everyone on the team, knowing full well there’s an unproductive team member on board, you start to question the judgment of the recognizer.

3. Sabotages team. It is not just each individual, well-performing team member, who might be affected by a scattered recognition approach. There is also a collective impact on the whole team. It can poison present and future teamwork.

4. Weakens recognition. Well-intentioned recognition given to individuals during normal work will become suspect underserving team members are recognized for team performance. Scientific research has shown that if a person negatively perceives a recognition recipient or the giver of recognition then all future recognition is devalued.

How to Deal with Tainted Team Recognition

I ask myself, why do we keep ending up with these scenarios? Here are some suggestions to consider.

  • My first recommendation is that team players need to be better chosen to begin with. Members of a team should be screened to ensure they pre-qualify for a particular project or task. They need to demonstrate how well they have collaborated on previous team assignments.
  • Next, all team members need to meet with everyone, review the assigned project, and discuss how each person sees how they can each could work on the assignment together. Then everyone is given a chance to vote as to whether they will accept each person to be on their team.
  • There needs to be better coaching of the team. Managers, or team leaders, must set clear expectations for assignments. They hold each member accountable for their outputs, which should prevent underperformers.
  • The team leader should conduct regular one-on-one sessions with each person to give two-way feedback and direction on performance. There should be no surprises at the end of a project that anyone did not do their job properly.
  • Team huddles should be held daily or weekly to review progress to date and goals to be achieved. Candid sharing should be given if someone needs help on a particular task. And team members should be empowered to discuss their feelings if they perceive a team member is not performing well.

When you have a fully functioning team it is like a well-oiled machine that runs smoothly. All members of the team have their own strengths that complement one another. They are better together for each of the talents and skills they bring to the table.

Team recognition will only be seen as equitable and fair when a team is truly united and every employee equally contributes to team results.

Recognition Reflection: What factors have made team recognition become a negative experience at your company?

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