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Even in 2016 There Will Always Be One: 5 Ways to Manage the Weak Link

Even in 2016 There Will Always Be One: 5 Ways to Manage the Weak Link



Dealing with the weak link

It was the day we had been anticipating for weeks. We had been paddling remote rivers in Northern Alaska and today was the day we would reach the Arctic Circle. A day before, Beaver Creek had spit us into the Yukon River and with two days of upstream paddling, we would reach the Arctic Circle, a major milestone for the trip.

The student leader of the day was Mike. Mike had struggled with attitude issues for the whole trip and he, when addressing the group with the plan for the day, said “Guys, I hope you are having fun now because today’s going to suck!”

Leading an expedition in the mountains, there was often one team member that was slower than others or had the worst attitude, or the most medical issues, or the worst navigation skills or the….. You get the idea.Shawn Stratton

On every team there is usually one weak link (WL). As a leader, how you manage the WL can make or break your team experience. The WL may not prevent you from achieving your goal but they can make the experience extremely difficult. The WL is not usually a destructive team member. They are usually performing their role as asked, but they are doing it to a slightly lesser ability than the others at the time. Even on an Olympic gold medal winning rowing team, there will be someone who is the weakest rower.

5 Ways to Manage the WL:

  1. Acceptance: Before you can manage a difficult team member, you need to accept them and understand that there will always be at least one WL. Leaders often get frustrated with weak links, imagining a faster, stronger, more pleasant team without them. The problem is that if they remove the current WL, it will only be replaced by the next WL. The faster a leader can accept the WL and work with them to increase their ability, the faster and easier it will be for the team to reach its goal.
  2. Support: Once the weakness has been identified, work with the person to eliminate or limit the weakness. In the mountains, this may mean taking some weight from the backpack of a slow hiker. On a project team, this may mean reducing the workload or teaching a new system so they can reach more deadlines on time.
  3. Strength Finding: Being a WL can be detrimental to a person’s confidence. Spend time with your weaker team members to identify the areas of strength that can contribute to the team to show them their value. The slow hiker in the mountains may be an outstanding backcountry cook, delighting the team with their culinary skills each night. Or the person you are always waiting on for reports to be submitted may be a fantastic public speaker who is great at presenting the team’s plan to stakeholders. Find out what they are best at and let them thrive in that area.
  4. Rally the Team: As a leader, you can encourage the team to rally around the WL in supporting them through a challenging time or event. If orchestrated correctly, this can be a powerful team bonding exercise. This was often the case when there was an injured expedition member. The team would do whatever was necessary to support their injured team member while keeping the expedition moving. In the office, a team member may be caring for a sick family member and can only handle a reduced workload. In this case, the team would rally and pick up the extra work to keep the project on track.
  5. Remove the WL: With any WL, there may come a time when their weakness becomes too great for the team to overcome and they impede sufficient progress. At this point, the WL is usually in way over their head and not having any fun at all and often asks to be removed from the team or quits. If they lack self-awareness and do not remove themselves, the leader will have to remove them from the team.Shawn Stratton

That day as we paddled toward the Arctic Circle, Mike’s, who was a strong paddler, attitude started to change as we crept closer and closer. He was swept up in the excitement of anticipation the rest of the team was exuding. By the time we reached the point where the Arctic Circle was, Mike was one of the first people to jump into the frozen Yukon River in a celebratory dip.

The next time you come across a WL, don’t be frustrated and wish that they were not there. Accept that it is a part of team dynamics and find the best way to have them contribute to the team while supporting their weakness.

Action: Meet with the WL on your team and brainstorm suggestions on how the team can best support them.

Until next week… Embrace the Adventure in 2016!


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.

Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.