hourglass, missing deadlines

Most of us work to deadlines at least some of the time. Deadlines are a common source of stress for leaders and teams.

So much so, that there is often a flurry of work close to a deadline to avoid being late. In the hustle and bustle of work, some missed deadlines even simply “sneak up on us”.

Why Do We Need Deadlines?

Missing deadlines - target dateWhen missing deadlines becomes a habit for your team, you have a problem. Deadlines play a useful role in teams because they give people something to aim for.

Deadlines also force people to think about the work involved in a task. Without goals or targets, teams can drift endlessly from week to week, without any urgency.

Deadlines also force you to prioritise your effort. If something is due tomorrow, it should be more important than a task needed next month.

Deadlines can make the working week more interesting. Although it sometimes feels nice to not have to rush towards a goal and to take your time, it can also feel pointless.

If you don’t have a deadline for a task, it can feel like nobody cares about your work.

For some people (including myself), this can have a deflating effect as you sit and think “Why am I even doing this?”

Resource: Deadlines are just one part of motivating people. If you are struggling to motivate your team, don’t go it alone – Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Motivating Your Team Audiobook, for tools and techniques to get the best out of your team members. Don’t settle for a lazy, disinterested team… try the audiobook today.

Why Your Team is Missing Deadlines

There are many teams out there that are in the habit of missing deadlines. I’ve seen them, I’ve led a few of them and tried to improve them. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t.

If your team has developed the bad habit of missing deadlines, it’s usually not because they are all incompetent. More likely, it’s because of the context they’re working in and the culture of the team, rather than being all to do with their ability.

1. Your Team Is Missing Deadlines Because There Is No Real Pressure

If you’re a reasonable manager who tries not to burn out your team members, then you probably don’t yell and scream at them too often. But for deadlines to be effective, there needs to be some sort of pressure.

Missing Deadlines - Satisfied

I find that usually the best type of pressure is external to the team. If somebody important from outside your team is demanding a deadline be met, it can carry more weight than if you are the only one who cares.

On the other hand, if your CEO is meeting with the President on Tuesday and your team needs to prepare the presentation, this external pressure helps people to work hard to meet the deadline.

To learn more about pressure and how it can help your team, read this post: How to Use Work Pressure to Help Your Team Thrive.

2. Your Team Is Missing Deadlines Because They Aren’t Real

Missing deadlines - fake newsIf you just make up deadlines, your team will get into the habit of missing them. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually they will learn that your deadline doesn’t really matter.

When there is no real reason for a deadline, other than to have a goal to aim for, it will become obvious that hitting the deadline isn’t that important.

But wait, you’re the boss. Shouldn’t your team just do what you say and work really hard to achieve the goal you have set? Maybe.

The problem occurs when even *you* know that missing the deadline won’t have any real impact. It’s hard to push a team to work hard when there is no real reason to do so.

It becomes obvious that a deadline is arbitrary when there are no consequences for missing it. When the deadline comes and goes and all that happens is the due date is shifted back to next week or next month, there is a clear signal that the deadline is just for show.

To learn more about the importance of consequences, read this post: Why Leaders Must Drive Consequences in the Workplace.

3. Your Team Is Missing Deadlines Because They Are Unrealistic

Unrealistic deadlines are not motivating. It may be good to set stretch goals to push your team, but stretch goals are designed to just be a bit hard, not completely ridiculous.

Leaders set unrealistic deadlines for several reasons:

  • You can’t say no. If you say “Yes” to your own boss regardless of how ridiculous the task is that she throws at your team, then you’re likely to commit to an unrealistic deadline.
  • There is no planning: How many times have you heard that it’s a “finger in the air” estimate? If you just pick a date out of thin air with no planning as to how to work will be done, it’s just sheer luck if you manage to hit the deadline. Some teams will work themselves hard to get the work done anyway. But do you really want your team burning out because you have set a ridiculous timeframe?
  • You aren’t collaborating: Frustration often arises when a date is determined without any collaboration. If you make up the deadline without talking to the people who actually need to do the work, it’s likely to be nothing more than a guess.

Unrealistic Deadlines Will Challenge the Belief of Your Team

Missing deadlines - jumpWhen a team is facing an unrealistic deadline, it’s rare that they strive hard to meet it. Sure they’ll work hard, but in the back of their mind, they know that the deadline is probably not achievable.

Getting your team to work really hard to achieve something when they don’t really believe it is extremely difficult.

“You want me to work on the weekend, when we’ll never hit that deadline anyway? How about I just take the weekend off and come back refreshed instead?”

Deadlines are valuable tools for teams. But missing deadlines consistently can cause teams to lose confidence and begin to treat them with less respect. Once a team loses respect for deadlines, it’s a hard task to get them to try to achieve them.

To stop missing deadlines continuously, you need to have the right structure in place. You need some sort of real pressure, to create a real deadline that is realistically achievable.

Unless you have these three components in place, your team are going to develop an unhealthy disrespect for deadlines. In turn, you’ll have difficulty planning activities because you’ll never quite know when they are going to be complete!

Have you had problems with your team missing deadlines? How did you handle it? Share you experiences in the comments below!

Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.