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When team members can’t seem to meet your expectations, it can be really frustrating. It’s normal to feel angry when our people aren’t working effectively, causing us to have to clean up the mess.

The frustration and disappointment can be even greater when we know our team members could do better. You might see high potential in your people, but for some reason, they just can’t seem to show it.

Believing In Your People Too Much

I’ve always taken the view that my team members can pretty much do anything they set their minds to. If they need to learn new skills or take on new experiences, I believe they can do it.

This only becomes a problem when it doesn’t work out the way you wanted. It can be frustrating when you see the potential in somebody, and they don’t seem to want to come to the party and step up.

In some cases, the issue might not be with the team member at all, but with your expectations of how your team members should be performing.

Just because you’re a go-getter who always goes the “extra mile”, doesn’t mean your team members share the same attitude. They may not have the same career aspirations that you think they should have.

“But they are wasting their potential!”, you might think.

It’s not up to you to decide what’s best for your team members. You can only help them when they want to go on the journey with you.

Reasons Why Team Members Are Unable to Meet Your Expectations

There are a lot of factors that may be out of your control when team members can’t meet your expectations. Instead of focusing on these, now we’ll take a look at some of the causes that you might be able to address.

1. You Haven’t Aligned the Team Member’s Goals With the Responsibilities

Goals aren't aligned to meet your expectationsA common reason for when we see people failing to step up their effort is that basically, they just aren’t really interested.

You might think that it’s a great career opportunity or a way to improve their skills, but this is only true if your team members believe it too.

If your team members are interested in a different career path than the one you had in mind for them, then they may not be interested in taking on more accountability.

One thing to try is to delegate accountability for work that aligns with the future aspirations of your team members. Not everyone wants to step up and take on responsibility.

It’s important that you try to find the people who are keen to own the work.

Learn More:  How to Encourage Team Members to Take Accountability.

2. They Don’t Have the Skills or Confidence

Sometimes we assume that our team members have the skills it takes to do the work. However, if you want your people to step up and meet your expectations, you need to be sure they do.

Bully boyWhen people don’t have the right skills or the confidence to apply them, performance suffers. Team members will be more tentative, potentially not bothering to try hard because they think they’ll fail.

You’ve probably heard many stories of the school kid who is a “troublemaker”. His grades are terrible, he doesn’t even try. And then all of a sudden, someone finds out he is having trouble reading. He’s been acting out as a distraction because of the embarrassment and struggle he feels.

A similar situation could be happening with your team members. If they don’t have the right skills, they may feel embarrassed raising it with you, especially in a professional environment.

If you are consistently encountering situations where there are errors or unexplained problems, consider digging deeper to find out whether your team member has the right skills, knowledge and confidence to complete their tasks well.

Try buddying them up with a more experienced team members to share knowledge, or coach them personally if you can.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #47: Why Building Team Confidence Should Be a Priority.

3. Your Team Members Don’t Know Why It Matters

You might be tearing your hair out with the lack of care and attention shown by your team. But do your team members know why it really matters?

It could be that your team members are unaware of the consequences of their actions, or about how the work contributes to the “bigger picture”. If you’re able to help them understand this, you may see them take a little more care.

Try highlighting the positive and negative impacts of the work on the rest of the team, you, your boss and the rest of the organisation. This can be a good way to help them see how they connect to something bigger than themselves, and entice them to take more ownership of the work.

Learn More:  5 Simple Ways to Improve Accountability in Your Team.

4. Your Expectations Are Too High

Sometimes, it is worth taking a step back and considering whether your standards or expectations are too high. Are your expectations reasonable? Do the standards you are enforcing need to be that way?

Can't meet your expectationsIt’s worth considering whether the standards you have in place are critical to the results of the team, or whether they are just your standards.

Many leaders have high expectations which are based on their own work ethic or desire for quality, which may not actually be necessary for the successful completion of the work.

This is also related to the need for your team to understand the “why”. If your team members don’t understand why your expectations are the way they are, they may not respect them the way you do.

If you are simply pushing your own personal preferences instead of standards that are required for your team to function, then it may be worth revising just how much you expect.

It’s fine to have high standards. However, if you’re constantly disappointed in everyone else’s work but your own, it might be worth having a think about what is important and making sure that everyone in the team is aligned with your point of view.

5. To Help Meet Your Expectations, Answer the “What’s In It For Me?”

At the end of the day, your people need a reason to want to step up and meet your expectations. You might think that being “the boss” is all the encouragement they need, but not necessarily.

If none of the points above are helping, essentially you need to try to answer the following question:

“Why would your team member bother to step up their effort?”.

Perhaps the work is boring, tedious or doesn’t allow your team member to use their skills and experience. Maybe people don’t think the allocation of the work in the team is fair. Perhaps one team member is letting the team down, and others are having to take up the slack.

The best way to find the answer to this question is to build a relationship with your team members. Find out what makes them tick. This includes what drives them and what interests them, inside and outside of work.

The other way to think about this is in terms of consequences and rewards. Does anything bad happen when they fail to meet your expectations? What about something good when they do?

I’ve seen many a manager express disappointment when their team members don’t step up. Then they realise that the team member is not willing because they will never receive any extra benefit for the extra responsibility or effort.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #55: The Importance of Consequences for an Effective Workplace.

6. You Haven’t Given Them Permissions to Step Up

As leaders, we love it when our people step up and try to do better, without needing to ask them. However, not everyone works this way.

Consider whether your team members might be asking for permission to step forward. Perhaps they are introverted, or perhaps they don’t think you believe in them because you’ve never asked them to do more.

Sometimes, having an open conversation about how you’d like team members to take on more responsibility or ownership can unlock the door for them to walk through and deliver.

Learn More:  Why You Should Provide Leadership Opportunities.

What If You Don’t Have the Right Team Members?

You may come to the conclusion that you don’t have team members who can satisfy your expectations. This may be true, if you have very high standards or your team members simply don’t have the right skills and are not able to learn them.

However, I’ve found that this is rarely the case. Most of the time, people have been hired based on suitable skills and experience. Even if they aren’t the perfect fit, most people generally have the right ingredients to perform at least at a moderate level.

You’d be amazed at what you can do by adjusting the roles and the work allocation in your team, or creating the right environment.

Have you struggled with team members who can’t meet your expectations? Tell us your story in the comments below!

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