During my two decades as a high school basketball coach, player behaviors sometimes led to my staff discussing the best way to deal with an incredible variety of issues.
But while some of those issues were easily addressed by a conversation or with extra conditioning, on two occasions it was necessary to dismiss a team member.
Whether you coach a team of athletes, lead a team of teachers, or manage a team of salesmen or corporate executives, you will also at times find yourself having to wrestle with how to deal with issues of negative or destructive behavior.
Before you dismiss a team member of any kind, though, there are 10 questions that I would encourage you to ask yourself.
Obviously, it is impossible to know your specific situation or anticipate every question you should ask before you dismiss a member of your team – but this list of 10 things to consider should provide you with a solid framework for making a thoughtful and rational decision that is in the best interests of your team.
1. Has your team defined consequences for certain behaviors and put into writing what actions might lead to dismissal?
A strong leader may have a signed handbook or policy manual that explains which behaviors will not be tolerated and are cause for immediate termination. Remember that poor attitude is not a specific behavior – you need to define the actions that were or were not taken.
2. Was the team member made aware of the responsibilities that were not performed or were performed below standards?
To defend a termination decision, a leader will want to be able to specifically point to instances where the team member performed significantly below agreed upon performance levels that the job required.
3. How have team members with similar issues been treated in the past?
Maintaining consistent standards is an important factor in your decision. Fairness does not always dictate identical consequences, but smart leaders will review how similar behaviors were handled in the past to determine an acceptable consequence.
4. Was the team member’s poor performance due to a lack of training and proper orientation to do their job well?
No team member can be expected to just “pick up” necessary training or information as he goes along. You don’t want to lose good people who simply are not being prepared adequately to succeed…
5. Have evaluations and prior discussions been held regarding the issue and have you offered feedback for correction to the team member?
Any team member who is ignorant of a behavioral or performance problem can’t be expected to correct it without receiving feedback. Regular individual evaluations and performance reviews should always include honest feedback aimed at improving behaviors and defining what his or her job performance should include.
6. Have you collected enough documentation to support the dismissal?
Documentation is a huge part of proving your case to terminate a team member. If you have records that show your repeated attempts to correct the behavior have been met with a lack of compliance, your case becomes far more valid.
7. Has the team member been in your organization a long time?
A strong leader will consider the impact a dismissal may have on their culture. If the teammate is valued, it may be possible to transfer the person to a “different seat on the bus” and give them a different role in the organization that they may be more successful with.
8. Could the team member’s dismissal be perceived by anyone as a personal retaliation or as a type of discrimination?
Always be careful, as it is difficult to defend against the appearance of a personal vendetta (did the employee publish a negative review of your work somewhere?). It is equally difficult to explain away the dismissal of the only minority employee, or older employee, or female employee… whether it is truly discrimination or not. Be sure that your company has no history of similar behavior that constitutes an illegal pattern…
9. How will you communicate the decision to your remaining team members?
Deciding how to inform others of your decision, following the actual dismissal conversation, is something to consider before any termination occurs. Have enough forethought to draft an explanation or to call a meeting and use the moment as an opportunity to reinforce the values that your organization is built upon and continue to point to the goals and vision that your remaining team will work toward.
10. Will you sleep better next week knowing he/she is gone?
Perhaps the most important question of the list – Given the time to process your immediate emotions, consider whether you believe the team will be better off (and if you as a leader will rest better) knowing that the team member is no longer influencing your organization.
After you have asked and answered those questions, it may be decided that the best thing for your team is to keep the team member on board and recommit to helping address and correct the issues that require correction.
But if it becomes clear that a dismissal is called for, I encourage you to consider the benefits of a team development event. Whether it involves team building for teachers, for athletes, or for an office staff, your people need the opportunity to connect and improve communication and refocus on the shared values and culture of commitment that great organizations emphasize.
One of my past clients had been struggling with a particularly difficult employee, and part of the reason for their interest in a team building event was to boost morale and strengthen relationships after having to say goodbye to a long-term team member whose behaviors and attitude had become too destructive to their culture.
The truth is that sometimes it is necessary to remove a malignant or uncommitted team member – and I hope that the questions above will be helpful to you if ever you must consider making what is a very difficult call.