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The Weak Link in Teams and Organizations

What is the “weak link” and what can be done about it?

Key points

  • Although a team or department may be strong in general, a weak link can be disastrous.
  • Regular assessment of individual and unit performance and progress can identify weak links.
  • Weak links in teams and organizations need to be dealt with, and it is the leader’s responsibility.

In a team or organization, one weak link can spell disaster. While many parts of a team or organization may be exceptionally competent and well-running, having a weak member, department, or process can disrupt the entire process.

For example, I worked with an organization that was using outdated technology that slowed production to a crawl. Although the personnel were competent and motivated, their ability to meet production goals was so severely hampered that they were eventually buried by competitors. Fortunately, in this instance, the fix was easy. Purchasing state-of-the-art technology and hiring a good trainer got rid of the weak link, and the organization became competitive again.

In another organization, the weak link was the HR department. The personnel were incompetent, and the laissez-faire leadership meant that things simply didn’t get done. For example, there were numerous opportunities to hire or promote star performers, but the HR paperwork was long delayed. Potential hires got frustrated and went elsewhere, and back-shelved promotions led to employee turnover. In this case, the weak link went on for years, with enormous costs to the company.

So, what should be done to avoid weak links in your team or organization? Here are four steps to take:

  1. Assess performance and progress. Teams and organizations should get into the habit of regular performance appraisals, both for individual workers and for teams and departments. These evaluations need to be both objective (unbiased) and constructive. It is only by identifying weak links that actions can be taken.
  2. Fix the problem. Sometimes the solution is easy, sometimes not. There are basically two strategies: Remove the weak link or work to strengthen it. Replacing a weak team member with a more competent one is a possibility. If the weak link has potential, you can focus on development and try to strengthen that individual or entity.
  3. Leadership matters. Weak links can’t be ignored, and they certainly won’t fix themselves. Leaders need to be vigilant and have a goal that each element of the organization that they oversee is as good as it can be. Of course, sometimes the weak link is the leader. In that case, there needs to be an entity or process (e.g., someone higher up; the board) for dealing with it.
  4. Engage in continuous improvement. An overarching goal needs to be ensuring that people and processes in teams and organizations are as good as they can be. Putting resources into continually developing both people and processes is a good strategy for preventing weak links from happening.
More from Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.
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