How to Get the Best Out of the Worst Performer on the Team

Think about the teams you’ve worked on throughout your career. Was every member of the team strong? Or were some, well, weaker than others?

Intuit’s Fast Track blog recently ran a post that grabbed my attention: A Measure of Your Team’s Health: How you Treat Your “Idiot. The point of the article is every team has a worst performer. How that person is treated by the team is very strong indicator of the culture of that team.

Now, I wouldn’t call any of my past collaborators idiots, but there is wisdom in acknowledging where weaknesses lie and adjusting for them.

The trick is playing to a person’s strengths

The author of the Fast Track article told a story of a volunteer group whose “idiot” was Eliot, a guy who just couldn’t seem to do anything quite right.

The other people running the volunteer group managed him so that he could truly contribute, treating Elliot’s cheerfulness and willingness as his key strengths. Every community meeting requires someone to put away all the folding chairs, or to welcome people warmly at the registration desk. We gave him all those jobs.”

That’s the trick – finding what every member of the team is good at doing and then play to those strengths. Make sure every member of the team is a valuable contributor – it’s not only good for the productivity and results of the team as a whole, but also for the sense of meaning, purpose and self-worth for each team member individually, too.

Just another form of bullying

What should you not do? Ostracize your weak link, hoping they’ll quit or just go away?

The Huffington Post recently included an article about the impact of ostracism on employee health and morale. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found:

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Having no role to play in work culture ‘was more detrimental to one’s well-being than having a negative role to play.’ The effects of ostracism were not only detrimental to employee health, they were also found to affect people’s job performance and satisfaction. Of the 1,300 surveyed in Robinson’s study, the people who reported having experienced ostracism were more likely to feel job dissatisfaction, were significantly more likely to quit, felt less committed to their work and experienced greater health issues.”

Let’s be honest:  Ostracism is just another form of bullying. It’s wrong and doesn’t belong in the workplace.

Everyone brings unique strengths with them

Setting aside the morality of it, however, allowing ostracism (and any form of bullying) to occur is costing you revenue in the form of less quality work, more absenteeism, and higher turnover costs.

Here’s the moral of the story: We all bring unique strengths to the organization. What are you doing to bring out the strengths of every member of your team?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


1 Comment on “How to Get the Best Out of the Worst Performer on the Team

  1. Thanks for bring up the point that we as managers need to play up each individual’s strengths.

    When creating teams for my Instructional Design Practice at SweetRush, I try to pair up folks with complimentary skill sets. For example, I often pair an ID with a lot of creative ideas with one who is great at documentation and knows the SweetRush production process thoroughly. The result is a complete, well-documented storyboard that can be handed off to the Engineering team to produce a creative and interesting course.

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