Coaching Employees Who Aren’t Team Players: A 4-Step Process

Coaching Employees Who Aren’t Team Players: A 4-Step Process

All leaders and managers will likely have direct reports who aren’t being team players. Not only is this a common team dynamic and performance problem, but it also can create greater damage than you might think. 

Employees who aren’t being team players serve as roadblocks to productivity and can cause internal team conflicts. So this isn’t just an employee issue—it’s a team issue. Leaders can’t afford to ignore it, as it’s unlikely to go away on its own. They need to take action to help these employees understand how to become team players, for the sake of the entire team.

In this post, we’ll walk you through a four-step process that leaders can use to address this key team performance problem and provide sample language that leaders can use as a guide for conversations with employees. The good news is the same process can be adapted for fixing other employee performance problems.

Meet Jake

Let’s consider an employee who is showing a lack of teamwork—we’ll call him Jake. He’s capable at his job, but he does not respond to or engage coworkers to exchange information and get work done. Jake’s problem is negatively impacting the whole team.

Why might Jake be displaying a lack of teamwork? Common reasons employees do so include:

  • A preference to work independently
  • Not feeling comfortable with coworkers
  • A belief that they can do the work better on their own

The 4-Step Fix

Most employee performance issues can be corrected using a four-step process.  

  1. Assess — Describe the challenge, the impact of the behavior on the team, the required behavior, and the employee history.
  2. Set expectations — Clearly define expectations and create an action plan for achieving them.
  3. Coach and correct — Give the employee direction and support as needed.
  4. Measure — Based on the timeline established, measure progress and results, determine the impact and adjust expectations as appropriate.

Here is a look at how this process might be applied to help Jake become a team player.

1. Assess

In Jake’s case, he’s not communicating effectively with his coworkers, and it’s hurting the team’s productivity. The leader needs him to understand that he is expected to be a team player.

A leader’s initial conversation with him should include the following:

  • State purpose of discussion — “Jake, I need to talk with you about your interaction with the other team members.” 
  • Describe observations — “I’ve noticed that you seem to prefer to work independently and only use email to communicate with other team members. This type of behavior demonstrates a lack of teamwork.”
  • Describe reactions — “I’m concerned that a lack of teamwork between you and the rest of the team is having a negative impact on our productivity.”
  • Give him an opportunity to respond — “Please help me understand your perspective.”

2. Set expectations

When leaders set expectations, the acronym SMART is a useful guide for creating an effective plan for making a change. SMART stands for:

  • Specific — clearly defined objective
  • Measurable — can measure whether objective met
  • Attainable — employee has ability to achieve the objective
  • Result-focused — has desired impact
  • Time-based — has a time dimension

Plans that have each of these elements are more likely to be successful. A leader might need to make multiple plans over time to fully address an employee behavior that impacts individual and team performance problem such as Jake’s.

Here’s an example of how a leader might communicate a SMART plan with Jake:

  • “Jake, I need you to create an action plan by Friday that outlines how you will work with your coworkers, Jan and Marcus, to complete next month’s sales report.”

It’s also important for the leader to express performance expectations as clearly and succinctly as possible to the employee:

  • “Jake, it’s important that you demonstrate that you are a team player and can work effectively with other team members.”

3. Coach and correct

The leader should provide any extra support and coaching that are needed, and offer feedback. Assuming Jake is open and committed to making changes, part of that communication might include:

  • "Jake, now that I have a better understanding of how you prefer to do your work and you are clear about the importance of teamwork, I believe you will make the necessary adjustments to become a strong team member.”

4. Measure results

The leader should establish a specific plan for reviewing progress to make any adjustments or corrections. This is an important step for sustaining and maximizing positive changes.

  • “We’ll meet every two weeks to review your progress with respect to the objectives we have set.”

Keys for Leader’s Success

It’s important to work with leaders on how to most effectively solve employee behavior/performance problems. In practicing the four steps outlined above, keys for a leader to be successful include:

  • Be clear and specific
  • Confirm understanding
  • Coach the employee to build commitment
  • Follow up

Following up is particularly important, because making a change can take time. Insufficient follow-up can result in issues lingering, or even cause an employee to backslide into the same problematic behaviors.

Additional Resources

Having an employee who isn’t being a team player can negatively impact team dynamics, which is one of the most powerful factors driving team performance. But it’s also important to remember that even when every person on a team is a team player, there still can be issues that cause team dynamics to be broken. For more on how to address these issues, read our post, “The Overlooked and Neglected Driver of Team Performance.” Also, check out our Team Dynamics page to learn how we can help your organization build high-performing teams.